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Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

This past semester I took an art history class that briefly touched upon the Taj Mahal. The projected images my professor put up for us in class looked so beautiful that I could only imagine what it must look like in person. There is no denying that being able to see the Taj up close and personal was what I have been looking forward to most this entire trip. Never would I have foreseen the struggles I had to endure just to make it to Agra.

Our flight to New Delhi was scheduled to leave early Monday (June 18th) morning, and then we were to hop on a bus for a 5-hour ride to Agra, where we’d spend the night and see the Taj in the morning before heading back. Most of us planned to stay up the night before our flight because it was our last night in Mumbai and we figured we could just pass out on the plane. However, my night took a turn for the worst when I wasn’t staying up to bond with new friends but rather to get sick and spend every half hour running to the toilet (I apologize if I’m putting graphic images in your head).

When four a.m. rolled around and we had to head to the airport, I was feeling worse than ever. I truly did not think I would make it to Agra, but I knew I had to try. At the airport I was in tears because I couldn’t fend for myself nor could I walk anywhere without making sure I had a bag to vomit in. Once I conquered the flight to Delhi, I kept telling myself that only one bus ride stood before me and a warm, comfortable bed that would rescue me from this miserable sickness.

With my professor by my side to tell me what to eat, drink and to maintain positive thoughts, my friends putting a smile on my face no matter how awful I felt, and the faith I had in myself, I made it to Agra and finally got to lay down. I was not going to let anything get in between me and seeing one of the most magnificent structures ever created.

When I was finally able to look at the Taj, basking under the sunrise just passed the reflection pool, tears came to my eyes. All I could think about was how just 24 hours earlier I didn’t think I would even make it to Agra, let alone get to see the Taj. Every couple of steps we were snapping another picture, god forbid we forget to get the Taj at a different angle! All jokes aside, it made me so happy that I was not only able to have my own pictures of the Taj, but be physically present in them too.

Without these people, I would have never made it to the Taj!

The Taj Mahal took 22 years to build. That seemed like a long time to me but after noticing the intricate carvings and endless details of the structure, I felt that 22 years was pretty short. The whole experience was surreal. Everything was so beautiful and the circumstances could not have worked out more nicely. Thanks to some will power and the kindness of others, I made it to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and I assure you, it did not disappoint.

The hand-carved white marble up close

I really hope I make it back there someday soon. I plan to take as many friends and family as possible because the Taj leaves you at a loss for words. Describing it to someone does not give it justice, you have to see it in person.

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After allotting a couple days for us to get adjusted to Mumbai, our professor (TG) called us together to go over our internships. She had matched up a few people already, but for the most part, we were all able to look over a list of possibilities and select which one we wanted most or felt suit us best.

Shauna and I were both really interested in this internship that involved working with former Whistling Woods alumni on a film they were in the production stages for. Unfortunately, once TG expressed our interest, they told us they no longer wanted to take interns. I was quite upset because I was really looking forward to working alongside young filmmakers and being on set.

However, thanks to TG’s personal connections, she found us another internship position with her close friend Dinaz Stafford – in a previous post I mention our first meeting with her and how that led to meeting Mira Nair, another close friend of TG’s. Little did I know how much I would learn through this internship, not just about the film industry, but about myself as well.

Working with Dinaz was fun and always an adventure. Instead of going to the same place at the same time everyday, we travelled throughout Mumbai at many different hours. This allowed me to discover new things and step out of my comfort zone – and it was an extremely large step.

We travelled with 50 kids to Matheran, we took the train to South Bombay and elsewhere, we met her mother (who is ridiculously precious) and worked from her apartment, we even got to observe a sound recording/dubbing session. These are only a handful of things Shauna and I did through our internship with Dinaz. Everyday was a new experience and it was great spending time with her because of all the knowledge and insight she was willing to share.

Dinaz (she’s in the middle next to the two older men) with kids from Salaam Baalak Trust. This was while the kids were planting trees at Matheran.

Just the other day we spent the whole day working out a budget for a short film. When I first heard our plans for the day, I thought to myself, this is going to be a long day, but I was wrong. Dinaz provided valuable information about budgeting. Additionally, she provided snacks and even took us to the roof of her apartment building for an “air break” to keep us sane. It was tedious work but in the end Dinaz was so pleased about how the budget ended up that all our time spent looking at numbers was worth it.

While taking the train was stressful and not having a set schedule threw me for a loop, this internship worked out very nicely. It exposed me to so many different aspects that I may possibly encounter in my future. Working with Dinaz has given me the confidence to take on any task. Whether it be a long, crowded train ride or just doing research from home, I know I can handle it thanks to this internship.  I learned how to adapt to different circumstances and met some great people along the way!

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Three essential qualities to look for in a “shopping arena” are: low prices, decent quality, and nice atmosphere. Hiranandani and South Bombay encompass all of these qualities and more. I have had more fun shopping in India than I’ve ever had at any American mall, outlet, or department store. We have stopped into a few malls here and there, and trust me, India has plenty of malls, but none of them have satisfied me quite like the alleyways in Hiranandani or the vendors that line Colaba Causeway in South Bombay (SoBo).

These “shopping arenas” are nothing like what I’m used to back home. There are no elevators, escalators, long lines, or bustling parking lots. Here in India, all you have to do is take a step in the right direction and you’re in shopping paradise!

There’s a nice mall in Hiranandani with decent prices, but once we ventured across the street and into some alleys behind the larger buildings and stores, we found ourselves amongst clothing and shoes averaging only 250 rupees (that’s about 5 USD). The venders are set up along both sides of the alleyways and there are also small walk-in stores to explore. As we make our way through this miniature maze, we’re buying shoes at this stand and pants at that stand, making it out without even spending twenty US dollars.

Now if you think the alleyways in Hiranandani sound amazing, Colaba Causeway would blow you away. This street in SoBo is like one long strip mall, but with no stores to go in and out of because everything you could possibly want is right there on the sidewalk for you – and yes, the vendors line both sides of the sidewalk. It truly is as awesome as it sounds.

This “shopping arena” literally comes out of nowhere, but once you reach it and realize how much clothing, souvenirs, and jewelry there is to conquer, it feels like you have just gotten the wind knocked out of you. Before buying anything, most of us took a walk down the street to see what these vendors had to offer. Then it was time to haggle. We were ready to stand our ground and not get ripped off just because we were tourists!

Without a doubt, haggling for the best and lowest prices possible was what made this shopping experience so much fun. I was able to convince a man to sell me two scarves for 500 rupees when he originally asked for 950. Every purchase I made felt like a quality purchase and I don’t always feel that way when I go shopping back home. At both locations, someone will always be calling you ma’am and asking you to just look at the products they have to offer. They consistently make you feel good about what you are buying and usually end up giving in to whatever price you are willing to pay!  Their smiles and eagerness tempt you to buy more, making their day that much better.

It’s such a blast shopping here in India that I may buy gifts for everyone I know just so I have a reason to shop! Every purchase I make here is completely worth it to me because I would not be able to find any of these items in the US. Besides, who knows when I’ll be shopping along the streets of India again!

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Tuesday, June 5th. Woke up at 4:30am, gone at 5:30am, home at 11pm. What a day, what an experience.

Dinaz, our internship coordinator, invited Shauna and I on a trip to Matheran for the day. We knew little about what the trip would entail, but we knew it involved spending time in the mountains with kids, which won us over immediately. The boys and girls that Dinaz organized this trip for are a part of an organization called Salaam Balaak Trust (SBT), which opened its first center in 1989 as a result of the film, Salaam Bombay!. The film was directed by Mira Nair and most of the young actors who appeared in it were actual street children. SBT aims to restore street kids’ lives through bonding activities and education.

Matheran is like a completely different world and is nothing like the city of Mumbai. It’s a common vacation spot for Indians, especially those with an extra buck or two to spare. Before I get into why former hit series, The Simple Life, is all I could think about throughout the day, I want to talk a bit about what we did and the day itself.

Shauna and I met up with Dinaz and girls from Salaam Balaak Trust at the Mumbai CST, which was used in the film Slumdog Millionaire for the song Jai Ho. Around 6:30 am our train left for a town just at the bottom of the mountain, where we then took vans to the top. The train ride there and back are worthy of a post on their own, but I will say this, stepping foot onto a train in India means you’re willing to eliminate your personal space for the entire ride. The cars are separated by gender, and it’s a foot race to see who can snatch a seat. If there seems to be room to fit another person, they will make you push over every inch possible. The doors and windows are kept open, giving you the opportunity to hop on or off at any moment.

A view of a couple platforms at the Mumbai train station

Once we made it to Matheran, the kids got to grab a tree to plant before we began our trek around the mountain. I followed closely by as the kids chanted “Be Happy”, “Plant a Tree” and we made it from one part of the mountain to the next. I quickly noticed how much this popular vacation spot resembled the former reality TV series, The Simple Life, starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. The show broadcasted these two young, wealthy women working manual, low-paying, and unglamorous jobs. Wealthy people and unglamorous jobs is exactly what you’ll find at Matheran.

Even though Matheran is a serene place with remarkable views, I found myself distracted by the vacationers that were there. The vacationers were dressed in much nicer clothing compared to the dirty and worn outfits the workers had on. Practically all of the men there had on jeans and a brand-named polo, while their wives and children had on heels, dresses, and fancy saris.

To get from the entry of Matheran to wherever the guests were staying (there were numerous rooms and hotels to choose from), they were either brought by human-drawn carriages or by horse, their luggage being carried on the heads of both women and men. I saw vacationers just sit back and relax with their designer sunglasses on as the workers strained themselves just so the guests wouldn’t have to pull their own weight. I understand that this type of labor exists in many countries, but it’s just not a sight I felt comfortable seeing.

There was one sight in particular that I will never forget. I saw a woman on her iPad while riding horse-back, workers walking alongside her to make sure the ride went smoothly. All I could think about is why in the world would you bring your iPad to a getaway in the mountains that’s meant to be peaceful, relaxing and an escape from the hectic Indian city life. The iPad is probably worth more than a worker’s monthly salary. With all my comparisons to The Simple Life put aside, Matheran is truly a place worth visiting. The scenery and wildlife will take your breath away.

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After three full days and nights in Mumbai, I have come to the realization that knowing and seeing are completely different — the latter impacting me more than I had anticipated. Before we landed, I knew it would be crowded, I knew there were extremely poor areas, and I knew the lifestyle many people have here does not come close to what we have back in the U.S. What I did not know is how much all of these sights would get my mind racing.

A couple days ago, while riding in a rickshaw for the first time, my professor (TG) made a great point: India is one for the senses.

  • The continual noises, mostly consisting of horns and screeching brakes, are loud enough to make your ears ring.
  • The sights you see around you make you want to pause and take a deep breath, until you realize that all you’ll be breathing in is a mixture of fumes and garbage.
  • The food gets the taste buds dancing, especially if you don’t mind a little spice in your life. I can highly assure you that there are not many places where you can get fresh coconut water right on the street or chicken fried rice at a school cafeteria.
  • Anything that you’re tempted to touch, you most likely shouldn’t. And trust me, resisting the urge to give those stray dogs attention is a lot harder than you may think!

Getting Internet access has been a struggle and the driving style is organized chaos, to say the least. With the lack of street signs, street lights, and road lines, I wouldn’t make it one mile without getting into an accident. This chaotic driving is something these people have perfected and I’m still trying to figure out how they do it. Even though they honk their horns too much, swerve to avoid pedestrians crossing from every direction, and often come within inches of other vehicles, I feel quite safe when driving with the people here. What a wild ride it’s been so far!

Even though I’ve only been in India for a short while, I’ve already seen or experienced things that we are not used to seeing or experiencing in the United States. I truly live a gifted life and often take the simple things for granted.

I hope you’re just as excited to see what the rest of this trip has in store for us!

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John “Hannibal” Smith , the cigar chomping leader of “The A-Team,” had an oft repeated catch phrase throughout the four history of the show which provided the title of this post.

Whenever Hannibal uttered the phrase on the show, it was rooted joyous exhalation; a signal that no matter the odds, The A-Team would pull through and get the job done.

In a lot of ways, I can truly identify with Hannibal’s catchphrase because, for a brief moment in time, it appeared as if this trip was not going to be a possibility for me.

Flashback to about a month ago.

It seemed like a typical Monday. I went to class on the Syracuse campus and also ran a few errands that I had to get done. Everything appeared to be going normally, until disaster struck: my passport and my wallet had somehow fallen out of my inside pocket of my leather jacket as I was walking around getting things done.

An amalgam of thoughts raced through my brain as I attempted to process what had happened. I know realized that getting everything replaced would be a huge hassle, and, moreover, I knew that getting a new passport in time for the trip, which was a month away, was going to be quite the process.

Over the course of the month of April, I had to obtain various documentation to send off in order to obtain a new passport. This was a particular laborious process, that seemed almost endless. First, I had to get a certified copy of my birth certificate from the state of California in order to get the process going.

After waiting for its arrival, the ball could finally get rolling in terms of sending out the passport application. Once the application was sent out, weeks passed until I received any further word about its status.

After what seemed to be forever, I finally received notice via email that my new passport existed. However, I still needed to apply for the visa in order to go to India.

That process went relatively smoothly, but, I still had nagging doubts that the passport and visa would not arrive in time.

Finally, on May 9, only three days before graduation, SU Abroad notified me that my passport and visa had arrived. I was elated! The long process was over, and now, India seemed even more tangible.

Things came together, thankfully.

We all leave for India tomorrow (!). It’s amazing that we are going on this journey abroad. I can’t wait to get started and see what we are going to do while we are over there!

 

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…Actually this is my first big adventure ever! On Friday I will be embarking on a terrifying 15 hr flight to India. I have never left the country and the longest plane ride I’ve ever been on was about and 1.5 hrs. and I was not fond of it then. However, I am BEYOND excited to be going to India!!! I had never really thought about traveling much and certainly never while in school because it just wasn’t part of my lifestyle at home (I’ve never even been on a family vacation). So when this opportunity came to my attention, I never thought it would become a reality. I feel to incredibly lucky to be going on this trip and I know it will be filled with many, many experiences, memories and lessons that will most definitely be life changing. I cannot wait for it all to begin 🙂

The reality of actually going to India hasn’t really set in, even though we leave in less than 2 days. I think it won’t be real to me until I’m on the plane, or until we’ve landed and I have survived the plane ride (haha). I’m very excited but I’m also a worry-wart so to me, nothing is real and solid until I can actually see it for myself. Therefore, all my excitement may come bursting out when we land in India (fair warning to everyone on the trip—haha).

I can’t wait to visit India because for the past 2 years I have been studying the culture and it’s people through various SU courses and by new Indian friends who have graciously answered my never ending supply of questions and curiosities (thanks for that guys!). It has opened my eyes up to a whole new world that I truly respect and admire in many ways. I can’t wait to actually be a part of it and experience this once in a lifetime opportunity.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain ~

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