July 19, 2011- July 21, 2011
We started our journey at 7 a.m. in Athens, Georgia and traveled for forty-two hours, forty-five minutes and forty-two seconds before arriving in Thiruvanathapuram, India. To begin with, we arrived at the airport in Atlanta, checked in, and successfully went through security. We didn’t realize that our flight to Chicago was just the beginning of the longest trip we have ever been on. Thankfully, that first flight only lasted for two hours. Our layover of three hours and forty minutes in Chicago was quite enjoyable, as we ate our last gourmet American meal at Chili’s. The group went on an adventure around the airport and scavenged for salty pretzel and caramelized apples.
Our next destination was Frankfurt, Germany, and we jumped for joy for our seven hours and thirty minute flight and a layover of six hours and ten minutes before we flew to Bangaluru Airport in Bangalore. During the flight, MacKinsey, Houston, and I tried to waste time by watching two movies, but that only wasted three and a half hours out of the total seven. At last, we arrived in Frankfurt and immediately ran to the bathroom to refresh ourselves. Then, after a short ten minutes of adjusting, we all found satisfaction in the rigid terminal chairs (at least they weren’t moving and had plenty of room).
Boarding for Bangaluru was a great scene. We knew we were going to the right place because we were surrounded by Indians. That flight was about eight hours and forty minutes of restless sleep. At this point we realized we were ready to arrive at our destination; however we also realized we were only 2/3 into the journey. In Bangaluru, the girls played cards for five hours straight, while the boys slept and read. From Bangaluru we flew to Thiruvanathapuram. From there we had a two hour bus ride to Nagercoil where we arrived at our wonderful hotel. Once the rooming situation was figured out and our bellies were filled with our first Indian meal, our heads hit our pillows and off to sleep we fell.
Thananya Kerdpoka, Class of 2013
July 21, 2011
Our first day in India was chock-full of two thrilling events: sleeping and eating. Once arriving at our hotel (after a two-hour, 30 minute ride from the airport), we found comfort in the thought of rooms and beds, two things we had been deprived of for much too long. However, we found each room had only a single bed (coming in, we thought each consisted of three beds). Of course at this point, I’m thinking of some good cuddling time with CJ and Mr. Watson. But, we ended up getting extra mattresses for all. One of the girls’ rooms has two beds and a mattress on the floor, while the other has a single bed and a mattress. Meanwhile, my room has a bed and two mattresses on the floor.
After the rooming situation had been resolved, we showered and prepared for our first Indian meal (and for many, our first true meal in two days). Everyone was pleasantly surprised by the hotel’s excellent cuisine. Lunch segued perfectly into a siesta. Even though the beds were quite rigid, nobody had much trouble falling right into their naps. In order to help adjust to the new time zone, we planned to awake for dinner at 7pm.
But, the next peep I heard was at 10pm when Mr. Watson gave us the option for more sleep or a late dinner: we had overslept our meal. All of us were so exhausted, we voted for further snoozing. Once midnight struck, CJ found me up messing around on my iPod. I was happy to see another person tired of sleeping. Mr. Watson also happened to be up. After a little chatting, the three of us decided to go down to the lobby to use the computer. We also reminded ourselves to take malaria medicine.
At 2:30, the three musketeers took the elevator back to the room. CJ and Mr. Watson slept well (I know because of CJ’s snoring!). I was done with my dozing for a bit, so I remained wide awake. All of us, though, were prepared for our first REAL day of adventures in India when the alarm clock rang at 7am!
Houston Gaines, Class of 2013
July 22, 2011
Our sleep schedules were whacked. The majority of us woke up in the wee hours, unable to fall asleep again on our rock-like pillows and mattresses. (I say" mattresses" because each room is furnished with both a bed and a “trundle bed.” I slept on a mattress on the floor.) MacKinsey, Thananya, and I restlessly wandered to breakfast before seven - thirty minutes before breakfast was served. We played cards and baffled the waiter by ordering one rice pancake, a rice crepe, pots of both coffee and tea, and three juices (which we realized upon arrival we were not allowed to drink), and twenty pieces of toast between the three of us. The rest of the group arrived at the height of our caffeine buzz, those luckies.
We arrived at St. Jude Thaddeus Higher Secondary School after a short bus ride from our hotel. As we entered the gates, our foreheads were dotted with red paint,and we were led to the back of a small outdoor stage, exchanging excited waves with the students as they filed from their classrooms for the opening ceremony. Welcomes were extended, flower garlands presented, and prayers and biblical verses lifted up. Thankfully, the ceremony and stares eventually ended, and the students were sent to their classrooms. We were then instructed to visit them. I assumed we would be auditing classes. I was wrong.
C.J., Houston, and I entered a classroom of middle school students. The boys sat on one side, the girls on the other, and the teacher stood in front in a beautiful sari, a great contrast to the children’s brown uniforms. No one said anything. So, we introduced ourselves to the teacher and found seats. Unthinking, I sat on the boy’s side. They all giggled hysterically and nodded to the girls, who were eagerly waving me to a spot they had created among their desks. Realizing my mistake, I hurried over and began conversation. Little did I know, these would be the first of hundreds of identical exchanges that followed the following formula:
Student: Hello. *Hand Shake*
Me: Hi. How are you?
Student: I am fine. How are you?
Student: What is your name?
Chain. Nice name. Your mom’s name is?
Nice name. You dad’s name is?
Gay-ry. Nice name.
You see, we learned too late that gift-giving can quickly become being-mobbed if one is not careful. But, being-mobbed is not entirely dependent on gifts. The first classroom we visited became a bit rowdy after they begged CJ and I to dance—we pretzeled. Soon, each of us was dragged to separate classrooms by dozens of screaming children. My arms were each pulled in two directions, and my flower garland became confetti all while “What is your name?” was shouted at me from all sides.
It was fun. We were fed tea in the school offices and lunch at the Headmistress' convent. We visited the primary school and sang “Itsy Bitsy Spider” in response to their “Wheels on the Bus.” We shook more hands than we could count and smiled till our faces hurt. When we finally loaded the bus, waving out the window as we pulled down the dirt road toward our hotel, we all exchanged stories of just how fun the day was.
Jane Robbins Mize, Class of 2011
July 23, 2011
After a long, exhausting, and exciting day at St. Jude’s, we all felt a sense of accomplishment and victory; as if it couldn’t get any better, but we were beyond wrong. No one had in mind what the next day had in store for us. We awoke to the rising sun and the refreshing coffee. Hotel Vijayetha’s restaurant menu for breakfast consisted of bread, bread, some eggs, some more bread, a little bit of bread, and bread. Had it been written as such it would have been excruciatingly boring. No, the menu was rife with words such as dosa, uttapam, vada, idli, and pongal. Words that held no meaning to us. Each dish was a different preparation of essentially the same thing. Whether it was a rice cake, a rice pancake, a rice crepe, rice porridge, or a potato doughnut on our plate, we ate it. We ate it, and we enjoyed it. Some dishes, such as dosa (the rice crepe), could be ordered with spices on top; a definite must-try for the adventurous eater. The unadventurous members of our group,*cough-cough* Houston, were happy to see that they could order some good ole’ scrambled or fried eggs with toast and jam. I’m just teasing Houston. He’s been plenty adventurous. Good thing Chick-Fil-A has yet to make it to India. 2013, right? Ha.
We soon found ourselves disembarking the bus in front of the Rotary Club of Nagercoil’s community center to a crowd of other high school students from the surrounding area. These students, however, were not just ordinary Indian high school students; they were members of their respective Interact clubs. Since Project Pallam, the main reason we arranged for this trip, was under the supervision of Athens Academy’s Interact club, this visitation was rather intriguing to us. Alex is the current president of the Interact club at Athens Academy and MacKinsey is the president-elect so the two of them were essentially in the spotlight.
We were all placed on the stage and introduced. Gifts were exchanged and pictures were taken. We were then given the remainder of the time to interact with the other Interact members—an experience that will surely be remembered. These students, although not from the big city, had a bit more knowledge of American music than the students at St. Jude’s - mostly due to their access to resources such as the Internet. This was a good basis to get the ball rolling, and while Alex and MacKinsey talked business, Jane and I formed our own posse of Indian students and quickly began chatting away…
Lost in conversation, we had overstayed past the scheduled time and, in an effort to make it to St. Jude’s on time, we hurriedly rushed onto the bus and off into the distance. We pulled up to the school to see the same scores of children from the previous day. Today was Saturday so the students were not scheduled to have school. They came just for us, and boy, did we feel like rock stars… It was the same routine; however, select students recalled our names and came up to ask us how we were doing. They had prepared a festival of sorts for us consisting of a sand picture competition, a fancy dress competition, and a dance competition. We closed the ceremonies out with a lil’ Electric Slide and Slappin’ Leather. Jane and I also attempted to shag which turned out to be me twisting Jane for style. The whole event was quite the trip and we departed again, off into the distance.
Ramesh, our wonderful tour guide, took us to Kanyakumari; the confluence of the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, and the Indian Ocean. We took a ferry ride out to the Vivekananda Memorial Rock; a rock where Swami Vivekananda supposedly swam to so he could meditate. After the boat ride back to shore, we walked to lunch for what we thought would be an uneventful meal. To say the very least, this lunch would turn out to be the most eventful of the trip so far and perhaps for the rest of the trip.
Allow me to preface myself…. Indian cuisine is delicious. Spicy, but delicious. Regardless, in order to help absorb a fraction of the spices your meat and/or vegetables are cooked in, you you must eat it with rice and naan. Naan is a type of unleavened white flour bread. It is flat and delicious. It has the best combination of doughy chewiness and flaky crunchiness. That’s really the best I can describe it. Go to Taste of India and try some for yourself. Needless to say, in addition to being amazingly delicious, naan lends itself to puns rather easily. In a fit of delirium caused by a combination of dehydration and exhaustion, we were rather susceptible to cheap humor. And I mean really cheap. For instance, if you were to have naan in the early morning, what would you call that naan? Why, dawn naan, of course! If naan were a mythological creature? Fawn naan! If naan were a Harry Potter character? Naan Weasley! What kind of naan would you enjoy when tired? Yawn naan. Sneaky naan? Con naan. Used naan for sale? Pawn naan. The list is seemingly endless and exceedingly cheap. The only form of humor lower than puns are clowns and mimes. I hope you have been able to enjoy these horrible jokes… We could not stop laughing. Literally. Laughing until our guts ached.
The night sobered up with a visit to a temple on the way home from Kanyakumari; Sucheendram. Sucheendram calmed us all and set us at ease. The men (Houston and Mr. Watson and I) were required to be bare-chested inside. The temple was breath-taking. If it hadn’t been for those damned ants biting my feet, it might have been a tad more enjoyable for me. But it was still everything that I could want from an ancient temple of its time: seventh century. Seventh century!! It was astounding to think that a complex so large was built by hand before power tools. This five acre temple isn’t even a blip on the radar as far as big temples go, yet it was still wonderful. We made our way home tired beyond all belief and slept on our mattresses on the floor. I took a Benadryl to combat the ant bites and almost immediately conked out; only to await the awakening of our next day in India. So, I ask. What do you call naan that is signing off? Gone naan.
CJ Brown, Class of 2011
July 24, 2011
Sunday gifted us the first leisurely morning of the week… instead of 9 a.m. bus meet up, it was delayed until 10.
First on the agenda: The only Teak Palace in India. 500 years old, with a span of eighteen acres, it took a solid two hours to complete the tour. However, this impressive length of time is mostly due to mine and Houston’s frequent photography breaks. (This was necessary… the architecture and attention to detail was incredible.)
After this, we had lunch at a hotel which proclaimed its service and food would “capture our hearts." The service was slow, and the meal did not quite win our hearts.
After our not-so-quick lunch, on the walk back to our bus, we were able to view the infamous “22 Billion Dollar” Temple. Here’s a link to it in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/05/world/asia/05india.html.
This sightseeing moment was kept short, as only Hindus are allowed into the temple. We then headed straight to the Trivandrum airport. We boarded our flight smoothly, and the plane was new and shiny, providing high contrast to our flight into Trivandrum.
After a short on-plane layover in Bangalore, and a two and a half hour flight to Kolkata, we exited the plane onto the tarmac and hopped on a bus. Here’s where my day became momentarily ugly: I realized my purse is still underneath seat 18B. I jumped off the bus in a rush, just as the driver was putting his foot on the gas to take us inside the airport. I ran up to the flight crew and struggled madly to explain that my purse was on the plane, large hand gestures included. One guy understood, and went to fetch it. He came back after three excruciatingly long minutes, along with three flight attendants, one of whom was holding my purse. They all had to come see the stupid American didn’t they….
Arriving at the hotel brought us nicer beds, showers, and air conditioning units, but what (literally) lay outside was overwhelming poverty, the likes of which we hadn’t seen before. The words ‘homelessness’ and ‘poverty’ are applied to citizens of the US, but in India we saw the extreme to which it can be taken.
Matilda Segal, Class of 2014
July 25, 2010
We started the day of touring Kolkata by meeting our tour guide, a Kolkata native. The first place we visited was the flower market. Stepping off the bus, we were immediately greeted by a multitude of tarps covered in various brightly colored flowers. We made our way off a footbridge and into the heart of the market. The lean-tos and tarp stalls housed lotus flowers (the flower of India), heaps of orange and yellow garlands, roses, grasses and various leaves. The cost of a dozen roses was 6 rupees: about 15 cents. We were too overwhelmed by the smells -both of fresh and rotting flowers- and the fast moving foot traffic to consider buying a bushel. Personal space is not a concern in the flower market, or all of India for that matter. We quickly found this out when we entered a network of makeshift wooden stalls framing all sides of the market which is also covered by tarps. We were hustled through the narrow aisles being called to and pushed at from all sides. Vendors shouted at us, men hauling large bundles on their heads pushed us, and women and children surrounded us. When we emerged from the market the group agreed on its mutual exhaustion and amazement. Next, we bussed to a local Hindu temple.
Our tour guide warned us that this temple would be slightly different from the previous quiet temples we had visited; he was right. The goat sacrifice was a bit of a surprise. Two small bloody goat bodies lay beheaded on a concrete slab with their heads behind them. We then took our shoes off to enter the Kali (an angry goddess) shrine. The inside was a simple and short hallway with the shrine offshoot in the center.
I don’t think I have ever seen more people in such a small space. A man was hanging off a rope dotting any forehead he could find. Another was blessing people, but refused to bless one woman for some unknown reason. She was pitching a fit. Thananya had an iron grip on my waist so she wouldn’t get swallowed in the crowd. Leaving the temple, we passed a man cracking coconuts on the wall, and he graciously smashed one right as I passed, so I was sprayed with the milk. Then we slipped on our shoes and onto the bus.
Mother Theresa’s late home and tomb was our next stop. We visited her flower-covered tomb and looked in her room in the convent. We then visited the children’s home. A sister showed us into the nurseries lined with beds of handicapped children. Though we left the home with heavy hearts,we were happy they were receiving the best care from the sisters.
We ate lunch at an Indian place in town. Most of us experienced the spiciest meal yet but enjoyed it.
With full tummies, we walked the grounds of the Victoria Memorial. The large marble building has received the nickname of the "British Taj Mahal" because of its similar symmetrical structure. After that, we went to the Ganges River to a structure at which family members could spread the ashes of their dead in the river. We then boarded the bus and headed back to our hotel. We were all exhausted from a crazy day in India.
MacKinsey Cole, Class of 2013
July 26, 2011
Tuesday was a day we were all looking forward to - our visit to the Heritage School. We were eager to meet the students and see the differences between this school and St. Jude Thaddeus in Pallam. We left the hotel at roughly 9:15, our usual departure time, and made our way to the school. Fast facts about the school: it has a student body of over 3,000 students ages 3 to 18; it is located in Kolkata; it rests on about 60 acres; it is an English immersion school, so English is the first language; all students are served breakfast, lunch, and a snack; and it has 72 school busses. No, that was not a typo…72 school busses.
When we arrived, we were all a little shocked - we knew the school was successful, but with the level of poverty in India, we didn’t expect much. The campus was neatly condensed with large buildings and beautiful landscaping. When we arrived, we were greeted by the librarian and international coordinator, and later joined by the principal. We had polite small talk while munching on some snacks they provided, then we got to sit in on some of their specialty classes, something we didn’t get to do at St. Jude’s. The specialty classes were similar to our elective classes, but Heritage had many more, like pottery, miming, and several dance and music classes.
The pottery teacher invited us in and taught us how to make Ganesha, the elephant-faced god. This was definitely a highlight of our trip to the school, and some of our statues turned out really well…some. Next, we walked into the mime class, which at first seemed like an acrobatics class because we were welcomed by a student doing this backbend handstand move with her feet on her head, which left us all in awe. A few more students performed miming skits for us, and we learned a few moves ourselves. We stepped into a music class where Jane showed off her violin abilities, and then moved onto the dance class. We watched a few girls practicing their dance steps, and then watched the instructor spin like a maniac. He then tried to teach us some steps, which was borderline embarrassing.
We were introduced to three members of their Interact Club, and, being involved in the Interact club back home, this excited me and potentially opened up some new opportunities for the club next year. The students gave us a quick tour around campus - which has two pools, might I add - and the tour concluded in an open presentation hall. A few hundred students piled into the room and we gave a quick presentation about Athens Academy. We showed a video that Mr. Callinan had made about our school, and another video Houstonhad made about Athens. We all introduced ourselves, and Mr. Watson asked if they had any questions for us, but the only question we got was about “The Tree That Owns Itself.”
Heritage and St. Jude’s are almost incomparable. The students didn’t show nearly as much fascination in us – they weren’t eager to shake our hands or talk with us, they just stared at us because we were outsiders. There was no big celebration or ceremony for us as at St. Jude’s - not that I’m offended, but I was almost expecting the same enthusiastic welcome. And the student body was different – I don’t know if it was because Kolkata was less traditional than a small town like Pallam, but the boys and the girls were not separated as at St. Jude’s . After our visit we were hurried out, because if we didn’t leave at that time, we would have to wait for all 72 busses to depart. Overal,l we really enjoyed our time at the school, and the differences were amazing to see.
We were exhausted after our visit, but our day was not nearly over yet. We were invited to dinner with the Chatterjees, whose grandchildren are at Athens Academy. Mr. and Mrs. Chatterjee met us at the lobby of our hotel, and we bussed over to their home where we met Mr. Chatterjee’s sister and talked over snacks. We were entertained on our bus ride over by the talented Mr. Chatterjee, who sang us a couple of songs. After an hour or so, we went to the Taj, a 5-star hotel in Kolkata, where the Chatterjees treated us to an absolutely amazing Chinese dinner. The food was fabulous, the hotel was beautiful, the conversation was enjoyable, but by the end of the night most of us were ready to crawl into bed, and we would have much sooner if we didn’t have to pry Mrs. Leary out of her seat at the dinner table. We almost drove away without her, I kid you not. Once we gathered the whole family, we left our new “grandparents” and collapsed into our beds at the hotel. It was a successful, fun-filled day in India, yet again.
Alex Pate, Class of 2012
July 27, 2011
Before we left for Delhi, we visited our last site in Kolkata, where locals make statues ranging from twenty to twenty-five feet in height. The men travel to the Ganges River to get clay, which is an essential material for the statue. It was amazing to see the multiple steps it takes to make statues.
Each stall specializes in one part of the statue-making process. We passed a stall where men bound straw to form the statue. The next couple of stalls displayed people either applying clay to the straw-shaped statue or men making fingers and heads. Our native Kolkata tour guide told us that the price of these statues depends on their size. He also informed us that people buy multiple statues for a November festival that lasts three days. It costs approximately five million rupees, but they sink all of the statues in the Ganges afterwards.
We left for the airport soon after and checked in for our flight to Delhi. When we arrived at the airport, we could tell right away the city is a bit cleaner than the last city. Our tour guide, Sanjay, directed us to our bus where we departed for the YMCA hostel. On the way there, we spotted four monkeys on the side of the road. We all headed towards the front of the bus, literally about to jump through the windows to get a closer look at monkeys. After passing by the creatures we arrived at our hotel, ate dinner, and prepared for the day in Agra.
Thananya Kerdpoka, Class of 2013
July 28, 2011
The morning after arriving to Delhi brought quite an early adventure. In fact, we all had to be up by 4:30. However, I was not too distressed by such news because the hotel (excuse me, hostel) we are staying in isn’t the greatest. And ou rroom temperature was horribly low. But, our day was an exciting prospect: the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort, and shopping.
In order to get to these destinations, a two-hour train ride awaited us. Breakfast on the train was not our best meal, but luckily I had brought along Pop-Tarts (when it comes to food, I’m always prepared). Rain fell throughout the ride and we saw some horrible flooding, increasing the bad sights of poverty. After the train ride ended, we hopped right onto a bus, giving us another hour- long ride. Our first destination: Fatehpur Sikhri.
It was an amazing sight, but the pouring rain did dampen our experience a bit. After renting a couple of umbrellas, we plowed through. It was a vast ruling place for the Muslims during the 16th century; their capital was here. Akbar, the ruler who constructed Fatehpur Sikhri, had three wives (one Muslim, one Christian and one Hindu). The Hindu wife birthed him a baby boy, so Akbar built this place to commemorate her.
After drying off a bit in the bus and another ride back into town, we had lunch. For the first time on the trip, each of us received our own menu. It was shocking. Stunning.
Lunch also brought a welcomed meeting with Athens Academy alumnae Bharat Agrawal and Lexi Richardson. Bharat now lives in Agra and will be attending college in the city that houses the Taj Mahal.
After lunch, we all ventured to a marble shop, which displayed amazing craftwork- the same marble sold here was used on the Taj Mahal when it was built. Many of us took our largest hit in the wallets at this shop. Prices were fair, but certainly high. However, it was a government- approved shop, and the marble work was simply amazing.
Jane will be posting about the remainder of this glorious day. Her post will include Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal.
Houston Gaines, Class of 2013
July 28, 2011
The Red Fort really is red. It’s also incredible. We followed Sanjay over the draw bridge, through the gates, and up the hill to the entrance of the first courtyard. There, he explained the history of the Red Fort—it was used by an ancient prince to imprison his father—while we strained our necks for our first glimpses of the Taj Mahal, which can be seen in the distance. However, our attention was quickly shifted back to the fort as we began to wander through its maze of doorways and columns. Some rooms we could imagine in their former glory as we studied the fading paint on the ceilings and walls. Others were restored to magnificence through the intricate inlay of semiprecious stones in the white marble. Overall, the Red Fort was a surprisingly beautiful sight, especially for a lock-up.
Finally. The Taj Mahal. We filed off the bus and were immediately mobbed by hawkers. Luckily, by this point, we had perfected the art of feigned deafness and stared blankly ahead as magnets, postcards, and figurines were shoved in our faces. Even Sanjay tried to sell us something. He led us to a man with a camera and claimed he would take the best photograph of us before the monument. It took a few minutes of convincing him that our own cameras were perfectly fine before we finally escaped. At last, we entered the gates. Of course, Sanjay explained a history before letting us loose to explore.
We have had lots of barefoot experiences, as nearly every temple requires it. This time, the Taj delivered. They provided us with small shoe covers, which resembled the footwear of an elf or KKK member or both. We were thankful as we wandered around the tombs inside with dozens of other pushy tourists who blatantly ignored the “No Cameras” mandate. Nevertheless, it was indeed beautiful. The symmetry was wondrous and the white marble shone even more brightly when decorated with colorful stones. We were all awed. In fact, when we finally reconvened, the only thing to say was, “Did you know we’re looking at the Taj Mahal?”
We were ready to shop. We had spent more than a week in India and were desperate for saris, bangles, and pointless trinkets. Our first stop was the cloth shop. The employees tore silk from the shelves in way that was beautiful and in a way that made us feel just shy of kings and queens. We were all beginning to contract serious cases of buyer’s remorse when Sanjay directed us toward the antique shop—a final temptation. I can speak for us all when I say we were done shopping for the day. Now we were ready for the street vendors.
The train ride home began with a sweet man spilling all of his chicken curry on his lap when CJ and I asked if we could squeeze by. This was followed by a nearly inedible dinner and naps for all but CJ and me, who entertained ourselves with the camera. When everyone finally woke up, we began talking and all agreed that in India, we have become a family.
Jane Robbins Mize, Class of 2011
July 29, 2011
Our first day of touring Delhi started in the late morning - much to our relief, as we were exhausted from our twenty-hour day in Agra. First on our itinerary was a Sikh Temple, conveniently located about ten minutes away from the Hostel on foot. Although humid, the morning walk woke us up a bit.
When I heard that we were to visit another temple, I expected an experience similar to those of other Hindu temples: loud, messy, and overwhelming. I was bracing myself the entire walk to plow head on into crowds of people. I was pleasantly surprised when my preparation proved unnecessary. After passing through the front entrance, Sanjay lead us into a quite office where the girls' heads were covered by orange scarfs. We all placed our shoes under a table and left the office, slowly walked up the steps and entered the courtyard before the temple.
In this courtyard I began to notice the calm, accepting energy of the Sikh worshipers. (Sikh theory teaches compassion, independence, service, and self defense, all in one lifestyle.) People smiled and waved, inviting us into their place of worship. Once inside, we sat on the expanse of carpet, listening to three live singers.
We then moved on and were graciously given the opportunity to offer holy water for people to drink and then to make naan in the kitchen complex.
After the temple, we rode the bus to India Gate, where MacKinsey and I were attacked by death-grip henna hawkers.
Unfortunately, I’m having to cut this short as Houston is harassing me to tie it up.
Matilda Segal, Class of 2014
July 29, 2011
In the afternoon, we ate lunch at a stop on our way back to the center of New Delhi. We ordered way too much naan, but ate it all! After lunch, we visited a mosque that holds one of the tallest calling towers in all of India. When it was built, after the Muslim invasion, a poor man had to climb all 172 feet in the air and call everyone to worship with a horn.
The tower and grounds of the mosque were built of India’s national rock, red sandstone. In the center of the worshiping area was an iron column. The mystery behind this column was that it hasn’t rusted in the 1,000 years it has stood there. Our group enjoyed weaving in and out of the intricate beams supporting the ancient ceilings. Then, we left for a street of cheap shopping and brutal bargaining.
Returning to the hotel, we prepared to go out to dinner. My brother met us at the Y, and all 10 of us piled into three rickshaws. Alex compared the ride to a race car video game. The dinner at “Club 1” was interesting. When we walked in, the booming music beat through our chests and the many hookah tables entertained us. It was great to swap stories with Jarrard, and we were glad to get back to hotel after a satisfying dinner.
MacKinsey Cole, Class of 2013
July 30, 2011
On our final day we took a condensed tour of Old and New Delhi, which included visits to a mosque called Jama Masjid, and Taj Mahal look-alike (well, the dome at least), Humayun's Tomb. Our visit to the mosque started off quite interestingly. We were told that cameras were not allowed in the mosque, so we took a few seconds to snap some pictures of the outside, then we put our cameras back on the bus before entering. Well, at some point during these three minutes, we lost Mrs. Leary, and, to be honest, we weren't too distraught by this, as it was a very 'Leary' thing to do. Now don't freak out - we eventually found her inside, but it did provide an amusing game of hide-and-seek.
We climbed the stairs to the entrance and slipped our shoes off, as we were quite accustomed to do and put on these oh-s- flattering floor-length gowns. These bright floral gowns were supposedly worn for modesty and respect, but I think it was a practical joke they played on tourists.
All the mosques and temples kind of blurred together eventually, but this one stood out at least because of the giant pile of bird feed in the center courtyard with the countless number of pigeons flocking towards it. And we again encountered Indian paparazzi, who didn't leave our side until we took a picture with them, which was fun, as it always was regardless of the fact that it happened every day multiple times a day.
After a quick walk around the mosque, we climbed back into our bus and headed towards the tomb, but conveniently located right next to the mosque was a street of meat shops. Literally, it was a street of shacks filled with animals hanging by nooses. We all sat in silence at the sight, at least until I instinctively let out a "NOOOOO!!" as I saw a poor chicken being carelessly thrown into what seemed like an abyss in the back of the shack. This may have been an overreaction compared to the other things going on down that street, but I couldn't help it - it was a natural reaction.
Anywhoo...We were all a little tired and a little hot, but we just had one last sight to see. Humayun's Tomb was gorgeous, needless to say, as everything we saw in India was gorgeous, but our visit was quick...in and out. The tomb was similar to the Taj Mahal in a lot of way:, the inside had a circular layout with the tomb in the center room and a huge dome to top it off. The tomb was bittersweet - we were all getting to the point where we were ready to take a break from the mosques, monuments, temples and tombs, but this was also our last sight in India, which meant our trip was coming to an end.
Alex Pate, Class of 2012
July 30, 2011
Our final day in Delhi, and Incredible !ndia, concluded with a visit to the home of the Tanejas'. Mr. Taneja owns Travel Spirit International, the agency we used for the trip, and he kindly invited us to tea at his household before our departure. Mrs. Taneja is the sister of Mrs. Chatterjee, an Athens Academy middle school teacher. You know Athens Academy has the hook-ups. This meeting would come in hand later... but I shall leave that discussion for Mr. Watson and Thananya.
Upon our arrival, we were ushered into the first floor to meet Mr. Taneja's mother. (This is the floor she lives on.) Then we went to the second floor - Mr. and Mrs. Taneja's level. They live here with their children. Mr. Taneja's brother's family lives upstairs. This system of living is called" joint family." It's an interesting concept, and one that was new to me.
Our tea, which could be classified as a rather extensive meal, was delicious. I, personally, was bummed about leaving India because I love the food so-darn-much. (If my piece on naan didn't quite show it....then I don't know what will.) Our lunch, earlier in the afternoon, had been a delightful meal to end on. However, this was not the end.
Tea in India, as we came to learn, not only includes the delicious brews of tea. It also includes a fourth meal of the day. Somewhere between lunch and dinner. For us, it was dinner. At least for me... I can't stand airline food. Regardless, this tea was delicious. We were served samosas and sandwiches and tea and soda and coffee and cake and other Indian deserts and delicious spicy food and...and...and....it was amazing!
I definitely can say that I engorged on the most Indian food while abroad. Mr. Watson came close... but I had, at least, one million pieces of naan over the course of the trip. I'm kidding. But, seriously. I fasted when I came back. I was afraid I had gained the" freshman fifteen" before college had even started. But! I didn't. (Yes, I checked.)
The table set before us wasn't the only wonderful part of the tea. We were lucky to meet the children of Mr. and Mrs. Taneja. Sehr is a sixteen year old girl, and Veer is a seventeen year old boy. In addition to meeting them, Sehr and Veerhad invited their friends over. Well, Veer only invited one friend over, so it was a pretty even ratio of teenagers, seeing as Houston and I were the only boys on the trip. Oh, and Jarrard Cole (AA class of 2008) was there, as well. I wish I had time to talk about it here, but he's been doing some amazing work over in India. Pretty cool guy, I might say.
Talking with these teenagers was a completely different experience. They were pretty Westernized: their wardrobes, their interests. It was interesting. I believe, if my recollection is right, Mrs. Chatterjee made a joke once that her niece (presumably Sehr) is more “American-ized” than her own daughter. It's funny to think that someone so far from the States could be so in tune with the culture that most teenagers thrive on. It makes you realize that we really do live in a global community.
After the tea, we went shopping one more time, then made our way back to the YMCA to prepare for our departure. The bus picked us up, and everything was going smoothly. We got to the airport. Unloaded our bags. Headed for the door. An official checked our passports. And then, BAM! We hit a road block….
CJ Brown, Class of 2011
July 31-August 3, 2011
We arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi around 10:45 p.m. for our departure at 1:50 a.m. We were scheduled to fly on an Austrian Airlines flight to Vienna to meet our connection to Frankfurt and finally to Atlanta, scheduled to arrive at 4:00 p.m. Sunday, July 31. Little did we know that this final step in our journey would provide a fork in the road, and like Yogi Berra, we took it
As we began the ticketing process, we quickly realized that a documentation issue would not allow Thananya to travel to Vienna and then on to Frankfurt. With this discovery, we went to work seeking solutions that would allow us the quickest passage back to the United States. Fortunately, there would be a direct flight to Frankfurt leaving later in the morning. After exploring this option with the counter agent for Lufthansa and discussing with the Austrian Embassy representative at the airport, we realized the documentation issue was more significant. We huddled together and made the decision that Mrs. Leary would continue the journey with CJ, Jane, Alex, MacKinsey, Houston and Matilda, while Mr. Watson and Thananya would remain in India, resolve the documentation issue with the U.S. Embassy and then fly home. With a final FamIndia hug and wishes of luck and Godspeed, our roads diverged.
Teak, Class of 2013
Papa Wats, Associate Headmaster
August 4, 2011
As we traveled throughout the country, our group frequently encountered the sign “!ncredible !ndia!”
Looking back, we cannot help but agree in so many ways. Our “journey” began, however, not on July 18, but many months earlier with the formation of the India Trip Planning Committee, consisting of Mr. Chambers and Mr. Watson, parents Mr and Mrs. Perry Vyas and Mr. and Mrs. Debabroto (Dave) Chatterjee; Mr. Pat Cuneo, Director of Academic Affairs, Mr. Pat Snead, Upper School Dean of Students, and Mrs. Sally Harris, who went on the first India trip (2006) and thereafter proved a constant source of feedback and encouragement. Our first thanks go to them and to Mrs. Sandy Baumwald, who coordinated so much of the paperwork.
Our trip began to shape itself last December, with an exploratory meeting graciously hosted in their house by Perry and Bijal Vyas. There, we heard about the proposed trip and sampled our first tastes of the cuisine which would await us. Two months later, we met at school for the first time. Again, after learning more, we ate. Five months later, with arrangements nearly solidified and visas approved, the group met at the home of Dave and Bineeta Chatterjee to learn about Kolkata and Delhi and – again - to eat.
Both the Vyas and Chatterjee families were instrumental in ensuring the success of our trip, from its planning stages through its final completion. How was this possible? In Kolkata, we were hosted by Mr. Chatterjee’s parents, Subroto and Kuljit, who met us at the hotel, then rode with us to their ancestral home, before taking us out to eat the most memorable meal of our trip and, unreservedly, one of the best in India. Later, in Delhi, Mrs. Guneeta Taneja, sister of Mrs. Bineeta Chatterjee, hosted us for tea with a gathering of young Indian teens.
Looking back, we have many warm and wonderful people to thank for contributing to our incredible experience: the teachers and staff at St. Jude’s school and its Headmistress Sister Pushpam, who invited us to eat with her fellow nuns; Rotary members at Nagercoil, who held a welcoming ceremony for us with Interact students from four local schools; the wonderful administration and staff at The Heritage School, led by Principal Mrs. Seema Sapru, who opened their school for us to experience; the student guides who accompanied us and provided answers for the many questions we asked.
The “India Seven” - CJ Brown, MacKinsey Cole, Houston Gaines, Thananya Kerdpoka, Alex Pate, Jane Robbins Mize, Matilda Segal – were magnificent. Open-minded and flexible, they rose early, stayed up late, photographed voraciously, ate adventurously – even shared one another’s Kleenex. As youthful representatives of everything positive that Athens Academy promotes, they were outstanding. Thanks also go to their parents, who gifted their children with new eyes with which to see the world and a greater appreciation of clean water and Western amenities.
We look forward to being a part of relationships developed on this trip that will last even longer than the memories of cold showers and long layovers. India was, and is, indeed “!ncredible”! We would go again in a heartbeat. (Hopefully on a more direct route…)
Margaret Leary, Upper School English Faculty
J.P. Watson, Associate Headmaster