Aladdin and Princess Jasmine had the right idea when they sang “A Whole New World.” That is what I was looking at after I stepped off the plane in Delhi, India. After almost an entire day of travelling, I had finally arrived. I had no idea what to expect as I walked off the plane. Little did I know that everything was going to be so different from what I knew. I can only explain it as culture shock – the language, the food, the people. I could not believe such a world existed 8,000 miles away from my home in Florida.
I found India to be combination of the poor and the opulent. In Delhi, every street light has around five or six children dressed in tattered clothing and no shoes begging for money. My heart broke knowing that I could not give to them –not even a single rupee – because my tour guide explained that that the children are pawns in crime organizations that try to hustle money from tourists and civilians. Giving money only feeds the cycle of corruption. In contrast, however, never have I seen in my 17 short years of life the wealth that this country contained. The Akshardham temple, a Guinness Book of world record holder for the largest Hindi temple, is the most impressive structure I have ever seen – or ever will. It took 4,000 workers and 7,000 craftsmen five years to complete this grand structure. I can only compare it to a religious Disney World. There were intricately crafted shrines filled with immaculate sculptures, a movie theater that showed the story of the shrine’s prophet, and even an indoor boat ride that condensed India’s 10,000 years of history into twelve minutes.
Culturally, the city of Varanasi, another city I visited, is the religious epicenter of India. A city designed to hold a few thousand is home to more than three million Indians today. Though crowded, I learned many chose to live there because of its religious importance. Varanasi is where Buddha gave his first sermon; it is also situated on the Ganges River, where Indians must pilgrimage at least once in their life. One night as I drifted past the ghats on a ferryman’s boat, I saw citizens burning the bodies of those who had recently deceased. Once reasonably charred, the bodies were cast off into the river. The Indians do this because they believe that dying on the banks of the Ganges will bring their soul liberation. The next morning, I watched amazed as pilgrims bathed in the waters, cleansing their sins, as remains of bodies floated by.
I could not go to India and skip Mumbai –India’s New York City. It is relatively modern, has high rise buildings, and there are even taxis. It was a perfect place for the Pakistani terrorists to attack, which occurred three weeks before my trip. It was scary to eat at Leonardo’s cafÃ© – a popular, crowded restaurant – with bullet holes still visible in the ceiling from when the terrorists had seized the eatery. And yet, everything seemed normal. I was amazed how resilient the country was, still trying to move on with life in the face of tragedy.
It is rather difficult to describe an experience such as India in its entirety in an essay that is only a few hundred words long. Words on paper simply do not do the experience justice; seeing the Taj Mahal in a picture is completely different than seeing it in person. If you have the opportunity – GO. India is surreal.
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