Friday, 18 April 2014

India Part 2

In the second week of our trip to India we left Daly College to do some sightseeing in Jaipur, Agra and Delhi. We departed Daly at 5am for an 11 hour train ride to Jaipur, meeting up with our guide for the week, Jayant (pronounced Gi-ANT, which Georgia and I giggled at immaturely for the first few days). 

On arrival at the train station we realised that not all the seats were booked together in the same car. I ended up going to a separate train car with 3 of the boys, which I pretended I was fine with but was secretly a bit nervous. Thankfully Jayant managed to get some people to swap seats with us and we rejoined the rest of the group shortly after the train left Indore. 

The train ride was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. India has an extensive train network, and apparently 20 million people ride the trains everyday. We were in a first class car, which was air conditioned, and the berths were comfortable enough. I was lucky enough to have a bottom berth (well, I think it was my privilege as a teacher on the trip!) so I didn't have the trouble of climbing up and down from a top berth, which was pretty close to the ceiling of the train. Everyone tried to sleep for the first few hours, although as soon as you found yourself nodding off either the train would stop at a station or a tea seller would come by calling out 'chai, chai, garam chai' loud enough for the entire train to hear. At one of the stops an Australian family from Melbourne got on; they recognised the name of my school on our T-shirts. The family was travelling with 3 kids around 6-10 years old which I thought was so cool. What a great thing to do with your kids, I hope Andy and I have the courage to take our kids travelling like that someday!

Arriving in Jaipur was the only really stressful time we had with the students as it was just ridiculously busy. Luckily we were all wearing the same bright blue tour T-shirts which helped everyone stick together. We were taken to our hotel which was pretty luxurious, especially after saying in boarding school rooms at Daly. The next morning we didn't have to be ready until 9am, a nice change from our 6am wake-ups at Daly, although I did miss starting the day with yoga and meditation.

Pieces astrological sign at Jantar Mantra

Jantar Mantra
Jantar Mantra

Jaipur is known as the Pink City as most the buildings are an earthy pink colour. Our first stop was Jantar Mantra, the astronomical observatory built over 280 years ago, featuring massive marble and stone instruments used to measure time and position in space. The accuracy of the instruments is astounding, telling time correct within 20 seconds using the shadows made by the sun. We also visited the City Palace (very good) and Albert Hall Museum (not great, but a lovely building designed by the same architects who did Daly College), and the Amber Fort (awesome). You can ride elephants to the Amber Fort which would have been brilliant but as it wasn't in the risk assessment we couldn't let the kids do it. Risk assessments are such a drainer!

City Palace
City Palace

City Palace

Snake Charmer at City Palace

Elephant rides up to the Amber Fort

Amber Fort

Water Palace, Jaipur
After Jaipur we headed to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Wow. I don't even know how to describe in words the awesomeness of this monument. You think you have seen the Taj Mahal in pictures and on TV so you know what to expect, but it completely takes your breath away. Although I will admit that taking a group of 18 teenagers through this did take something out of the experience, as you don't really have the time to yourself to savour the moment. The inside is not as impressive as the outside, I think mainly because there are guards blowing whistles constantly at people trying to take pictures of the inside, which happened a lot. (Why do people do this? If there is a sign saying no pictures, than don't take a picture! People who think that rules don't apply to them actually really annoy me.) So, it's not quite the peaceful, serene atmosphere inside that one would expect.

Our last 2 days were in Delhi and I think at this point everyone was pretty tired, and some of the students started getting sick. Nothing major, but it felt like the trip was just long enough, and it was time to go home. Delhi was interesting, although again visiting with students meant that we avoided Old Delhi just because it wouldn't have been safe or feasible to take a large group though there.

We were mainly in New Delhi, which was quite modern in places, and in fact the area around the Parliament buildings is impressive and modern looking, and probably the only place we went that didn't have piles of rubbish everywhere. However I think that made me feel a bit uncomfortable, as it was such a stark contrast to the poverty we saw in other parts of the country and even in Delhi. In fact I feel that perhaps our students did not quite get enough of a shock in terms of the poverty that the majority of the country live in due to the structure of the trip. I think the teacher that organises it is looking to include a service component for next year, so that the students can start to understand the country a bit more.

The Lotus Temple, Dehli - where all religions are celebrated

Our flight home was pretty uneventful, except for the fact that our bus broke down a few miles from Delhi airport on the morning of our flight, and once at the airport one of our students left their bag with passport in an airport shop and had to run back to get it! Thankfully the bus had just run out of gas and our student's bag was still in the shop, so both crises were averted. Oh, and also on the flight from Delhi to Singapore the guy in front of me had his seat reclined THE WHOLE FLIGHT, including take off and landing. The flight crew even asked him to put his seat up during landing and when they left he put it back down! Ahhhhh! Again, people who just ignore rules really annoy me! Of course this guy also took his seatbelt off and stood up before the seatbelt sign had turned off once we'd landed. The nerve! Anyway, annoying flight passengers aside, I had a wonderful time and would love to go back someday (maybe without students!) to further explore the country. 

Monday, 14 April 2014

India Part 1

This year at school I was given the amazing opportunity to accompany Year 9 students on a two week trip to India. The first week was spent at Daly College in Indore, which is a Round Square school. Round Square is an organization of schools world-wide that share the same goals around learning, called IDEALS: Internationalism, Democracy, Environment, Adventure, Leadership and Service. My school in Mebourne is also a Round Square school.

We left on the morning of Friday 14th March - 18 students and 3 teachers, including myself. We had a fairly horrendous itinerary, a 7 hour flight to Singapore, 4 hour stopover, 6 hour flight to Mumbai, 8 hour stopover, and then an hour flight to Indore. The 8 hour stopover in Mumbai was overnight and prior to landing I was recalling a night spent in an Egyptian airport (Luxor I think?) in 2008 that was probably one of the worst nights of my life: freezing airport, hard metal benches, dusty floor, nothing to eat or drink. Thankfully the terminal we were in at Mumbai was pretty new and clean and there was a small snack bar where we could get tea and pastries, and the night passed without any incidents. We had to take a shuttle bus to another terminal to get our domestic flight to Indore, and then hilariously once we had gone through the gate we boarded another bus to take us to the plane, which was back at the international terminal. Hmmmm, fairly inefficient system I think! I also have never had my bags scanned or my boarding pass checked so many times as in this airport - I suppose since the attacks in Mumbai in 2008 security is extra tight, but man did it feel like overkill!

Once we got to Indore, Vijay, a teacher from Daly college who would be with us for our first week, greeted us and took us to the bus. The first thing I noticed about India is just how noisy it is on the road. I thought people in Melbourne overused their car horns, but they've got nothing on the people in India! However we learned that when people beep their horns in India it means something like "hey, just wanted to let you know I'm here!" rather than the aggressive or annoyed tone it takes on in Western countries. And the longer we were in India the more I was glad that the horn was used in this way, because the driving is insane. It was pretty much how I had pictured it... cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, cows and pedestrians all sharing the same space, all going at different speeds, but miraculously I never once saw an accident the whole time we were there. It was impressive to watch, in a way driving there is an art form.

Daly College, Indore
Finally arriving at Daly College around 8am on Saturday 15th March, about 30 hours after we left Melbourne, we were thrown right into a packed first day. We spent our first 6 days at Daly, where we took classes on Hinduism and other religions in India, Indian festivals, Indian history and Hindu Gods and symbols. As teachers we also sat in on the lessons and had to take tests at the end of each class. I loved being taught again, and learned so many things about Hinduism in particular that I must admit, I was pretty ignorant about before (I supposed my Grade 11 world religions class probably did not feel as interesting or relevant to me at the time!) 

A classroom at Daly College

Yummy Indian food at Daly

We were also there in time for the Holi festival, which is a Hindu festival celebrating love and colours. The eve of the festival starts with a bonfire, and then on Holi people celebrate colours by chasing each other around with coloured powder and water. We celebrated with other students in the school on school grounds so it was pretty tame - unfortunately taking a group of students out into the city to participate in the festival was not in the risk assessment!

Georgia (other teacher) and I after Holi
Bonfire on the eve of Holi

Vijay taught most of our lessons, as he is the religion and Sanskrit teacher at the school, and is also a priest to the royal family in Maheshwar. We went on an overnight trip to Maheshwar and the students were all able to meet Prince Richard Holkar - who turned out to be a pretty down to earth guy! His residence is Ahilya Fort which is also a hotel overlooking the Narmada River, where the students were able to take part in a ceremony to honour the river.

After Maheshwar we went on to Mandu where we stayed the night in a new hotel... so new that it didn't quite look like it was finished! Exposed wires, holes in the walls, and frequent power outages were just a few of the problems we had, however the food was excellent so we can't complain too much! 

Watching the sunrise at Roopmati's Pavillion

We were up at 5:30am so that we could arrive at Roopmati's Pavilion at dawn. The sunrise was beautiful, and totally worth waking up for. In Mandu we also visited the Jahaz Mahal, an impressive palace which included a haram for the 1500 wives of the ruler of the palace!

Jahez Mahel

Once back at Daly College the students also had a chance to do some pottery, art classes and cooking classes. They also learned a traditional Indian dance that they presented at an evening performance where parents of the Daly college students came to watch. The performance was great, a real highlight of the trip, with local newspapers covering the story of Australian students at Daly, and performances from other dance groups including a deaf dance group and the winners of India's Got Talent!

My attempt at Indian art

Temple at Daly College
After our first week at Daly we departed on Friday 21st March to start the sightseeing portion of our trip, starting with a 11 hour train ride to Jaipur. I will write about the second week in part 2...

Garry, one of the other teachers, kept a fantastic blog for the parents which you can read here if you are interested in seeing lots of pictures and details on the trip.
Monkey mom and baby

Who doesn't love a random Monkey shot? This one acted like he was posing for the cameras!