Namaste: Our First Impression of India

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I have much to say about our all-too-brief six days in India with Semester at Sea—four of which were spent leading students on a fast-paced, accelerated tour of the country—but for now, we’re busily preparing to dock in Vietnam for six days in less than 12 hours. In the meantime, I thought I’d share with you SVV’s email to his family back home, as it’s a pretty accurate summary of our whirlwind sensory experience.

*****

A black and red butterfly floated down onto the sixth floor deck of M/V Explorer. I allowed it to cling to my outstretched forefinger and quickly carried it to a safer place out of the buffeting winds. We have a beautiful view that stretches off the fantail of our racing ship and the wake is smooth, buried deep and churning the waters that we’re grinding through. Exhausted butterflies and dragonflies were my introduction to the Indian sub-continent. Well, that, the dozens of dragonflies and the electric atmosphere about the ship. We always arrive in port at dawn, which I think magnifies the mystique of our destinations because they rise up, immediately, out of the blue darkness, instead of slowly swelling in size and texture as our rolling home barrels towards land like a student battering ram.

The air was thick with haze but our guide said the air is much better than in the past. Our first major excursion was to Ranthambore National Park. It’s an old hunting preserve of the Maharajah of Jaipur. It takes 10 hours to reach this place and we’ve taken a bus, an airplane, another bus and a six-hour train ride to reach our destination. We had an early morning wake-up for our first game drive and 18 people from our group saw a four-year old tigress. We saw crocodile, owl, peacock, sloth bear tracks and tons of tiger food—er, I mean deer. The terrain was perfect for tiger, and it just had a tang that is indescribable. After four hours of driving in the wee morning, we were quite ready for breakfast and our hotel had a full spread: pancakes, muffins, “egg-y bread,” and also traditional South Indian cuisine like idly and dosa.

Kristin and I were the trip “liaisons” for our group of 24. This means we led the group, counted heads, coordinated with our tour guide and maintained order in the chaos that is India. It went really well, and our group meshed together after the first day into a cohesive unit of travelers. India is an amazing place to be even slightly wealthy. It’s easy to “roll like a rock star” as I coined it, because our dollar carries quite far and the mentality of Indian people are so catered toward caring for others. For example, meals cost five bucks with drinks and I spent the equivalent of $25 on a handmade bedspread (purple, with elephants), and the seller still was grinning from ear to ear like he’d bested me in the negotiations.

Speaking of which, by the time we make it back to the States, I’ll be an expert haggler. Every single country we’ve visited requires it, like it’s an integral piece of their culture to have a sliding scale for all purchases. We’re continuing to build our collection of globes and have added four more to date!

Our second stop during our four-day trip was to the Taj Mahal and some surrounding structures. India is absolutely filled to brimming with ancient wonder and I could spend a lifetime discovering even a fraction. Gorgeous, intricate and sublime, the home of Buddha will destroy your sense of American exceptionalism in about 36 hours. It is filled with poor people, yes. It has truly nasty rivers and trash is piled up between squirming, naked children and deformed, malnourished members of the lower caste. However, and I think you can only know this by visiting and experiencing it firsthand, this culture has an immense and lush history that stretches back thousands of years. It dwarfs our intellectual heritage.

Wait until you see these pictures. Til then, we’re enroute on the beautifully clean M/V Explorer to Malaysia through waters the color of clear turquoise. We arrive in three days and hope to explore Penang a bit before heading to Vietnam and Cambodia for a spell. Our voyage is about to accelerate with another six countries in the next month.

Namaste,

SVV

COMMENTS
  • October 24, 2011

    Can’t wait to hear more about India. I love the photo with the hands with mehndi decoration – beautiful!

    • October 24, 2011
      Kristin

      It was such an incredible experience, every last part of it, that I’m having an extremely difficult time translating all we saw, did, felt into words.

  • October 24, 2011

    I knew I saw “Semester at Sea” tee-shirts at the City Palace in Jaipur! I knew it! I even asked my sister Kasia if she knew your last name so I could ask a group of students if they knew you. They were walking around the textile room with a bearded professor. Gosh! Imagine if we could have met in India. Spent 2 weeks there are just got back four days ago. What a beautiful country!

    • October 24, 2011
      Kristin

      That is CRAZY. I wasn’t with them in Jaipur–that was the ship’s dean, the one with the beard!–but we were pretty close by in Ranthambore. Ahhhh–wish we’d met! It’s Luna, for future reference should you see me wandering around, I don’t know, Mali…or Greenland…or New York…or somewhere =)

  • October 24, 2011

    India seems like an amazing country and is definitely on my list. I’ll bet it’s difficult to take it all in, every country you visit is amazing. I really do need to check into this Semester at Sea thing, after I get over my problem with being on the big water. More please.

  • October 24, 2011

    As incredible as this experience is, I would be sooo exhausted at the pace you are moving. I look forward to more photos!

  • October 24, 2011

    SVV – I can’t believe you write such lovely letters home – lucky recipients. 🙂 Btw, I’m impressed with all that haggling you’re talking about as I suck at it – honest! Also, I so envy the tigress spotting as the closet I’ve come to that is “tiger poo”. Humph!

    Kristin – waiting for more, as always. Yeah, I’m a demanding follower et al! :p

    • October 25, 2011
      SVV

      Thanks! It hits me sometimes. The inspiration. And haggling isn’t an end game. It’s an evolution that never ends.

    • October 25, 2011
      Kristin

      Kavita, I LOVE your country. Sort of overwhelmed at even thinking about tackling it via blog (especially as anyone knows six days is downright offensive to spend in such an expansive, culturally rich country). Can I come back and visit you sometime and stay longer? 😉

      • October 25, 2011

        I have some great news for you, Kristin. Queen Kavita has granted permission for you to set foot on Indian soil again. Not only that, I believe you’ve been invited to stay for as long as you like. :p

        I love that you took a liking to India. Now stop being overwhelmed and get cracking on that post already. I kid, take your time. 🙂

        • October 27, 2011
          Kristin

          So kind of you! =)

          And I will check out your link next time I’m on land with Internet–as of now, I can’t load any blogs with images, which is quite sad for me!

  • October 24, 2011

    Either you guys swapped your cameras out for newer models or there’s something about India that seems brighter, more alive. So beautiful!

    • October 25, 2011
      SVV

      You must have spotted the nipple dangling half-snarfed in the baby monkey’s mouth.

  • October 24, 2011

    “maintained order in the chaos that is India. ” Is that even possible?!

    • October 25, 2011
      Kristin

      We use the term loosely =) When you arrive back in Chennai after a bus, plane, train combo (wash, rinse, repeat) from Delhi to Ranthambore, back to Agra and Delhi, with all 24 participants in tact, happy and no known cases of Delhi Belly, then I consider that a successful trip through India!

  • October 24, 2011

    Gorgeous. The writing (Fist pump, SVV), the photos, the sentiment. Love it all.

    xox

    • October 25, 2011
      SVV

      Thanks Heidi. Right back at ya.

  • October 24, 2011

    I have a feeling that any amount of time in India would be too short.

    • October 24, 2011
      Kristin

      Good point. Six days was ridiculous, but I imagine I’d have the same feelings after six weeks–“ahhh, I didn’t manage to see even a fraction of what I wanted to see!”

  • October 24, 2011
    Laurie

    Yes India is fantastic isn’t it. I don’t think you can even imagine how magical it is until you’ve been there. All people seem to think of India is poverty, beggars and filth and yes it is all that but so much more. I felt so alive while I was there and your senses are working overtime. – yes with some of the smells and the honking and trying to have eyes in the back of your head so a cow or motorbike/rickshaw doesn’t run you down…but the beauty of the country, the buildings, the history and the people touches you forever. I can’t wait to go back…and don’t get me going on the food. Yum!!! You were lucky to see a tiger in Rathambore – we weren’t so lucky – just a paw print!!! Some day!

    • October 25, 2011
      Kristin

      Honestly, I had never been that jazzed about going to India–it wasn’t that I didn’t want to go, but rather my feelings were neutral. So I was even more blown away by how much I loved it–can’t wait to go back! The people, food, scenery–everything was gorgeous.

  • October 25, 2011

    Wow, good writing runs in the Luna/VV family for sure! I loved this SVV, your description of India makes me want to bag a pack and get on the first plane and I am someone who much like Kristin said above has had very neutral feelings about going to India up until now. Also, that last photo of you two is fantastic, definitely a framer once you get back onto dry land!

    • October 25, 2011
      Kristin

      He’s more poetic than I am, but he says thank you for the compliments =)

    • October 25, 2011
      SVV

      India needs trail-blazers. They always have and probably always will. Make the leap if you’re hesitant because this place, this great huge and raucous space, is where civilization manifested its greatest and forgotten achievements. There is SO much waiting there for discovery and a safer land in which to be this adventurous traveler doesn’t exist. People help you out and problems magically vaporize into the ether if you smile, say Namaste and keep your intentions true.

      Also, take me with you because I’ve had a taste now and thirst for more. We have people.

  • October 25, 2011

    What an amazing trip, I wouldn’t know where to start. Looking forward to hearing more about it!

  • October 25, 2011

    Amazing. I’m studying eastern religions this semester and it has created in me a burning desire to visit the Indian subcontinent. There’s such wealth of history and culture that I would love the chance to soak up.

  • October 25, 2011
    Katie

    This post was exactly what I needed to see. I’ve been deciding on my first major overseas trip. For years (literally, since before I was in college), I’ve wanted to go to India. To me, it represents the world in a single country. Language, people, culture, rich and poor, healthy and sick…everything is intermingling, and everyone is part of the same portion of the world. I wasn’t 100% on India (as I want to make this first trip the most amazing life experience ever haha, I have some lofty dreams), but this post has convinced me that it’s the right choice, and going anywhere else just wouldn’t feel right.

    Beautiful writing SVV. As always, I love seeing you two together. It’s a beautiful thing 🙂

    • October 26, 2011
      SVV

      This is the best compliment for any bit of writing on travel (that I’ve pushed you over the edge). Thank you it’s made my day/week/month.

    • October 27, 2011
      Kristin

      This is one of the nicest comments either of us has ever received on this blog. Thank you, Katie, for your amazing words!

  • October 27, 2011

    guh, amazing.

  • October 29, 2011

    Amazing. Enough said!

  • August 14, 2012

    Loved reading it! Fabulous.

  • June 13, 2015

    I am a bollywood fan. By watching them, I think I’ve explored India already. But someday, I will set my feet to that wonderful place again.

  • March 24, 2017

    Wow!! This is amazing. Really a great job. You have explain each and everything beautifully. I am feeling excited to go there for this amazing experience.

  • February 13, 2018

    It is always a pleasure to read an outsider’s perspective on India….Thank you for the beautiful and kind narrative, Svv has a way with words, I must say. Hopefully, you will visit again and let the land reveal more of her mystique and fill you up with whatsoever your soul seeks in here! Namaste!

  • March 7, 2018

    Wow!!.. All the pictures are taken very clearly. I am also planning to visit India and going to list all these things in my plan.

  • May 16, 2018

    Great work on the blog. the topic you chose was something. I have been looking for in a long time. thanks for sharing your knowledge it really helped me a lot.

  • May 30, 2018

    THANXS FOR SHARING, THE POST IS REALLY INTERESTING AND QUITE INFORMATIVE TOO.

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