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.