Experiencing India - My Family Travels

My first real steps outside of the United States landed on the dusty street outside of the Chattrapathi Shivaji International Airport located in the bustling city of India’s capital, Mumbai. I had just spent over 12 exhausting hours flying from Singapore to Mumbai. But as the unique scent of India filled my nostrils, I found myself instantly wide awake. We arrived in the dead of night, but there were still hundreds of miles to drive until our final destination in Pune would be reached. While the rest of my rather eclectic party – which included my friend Emalie, her father Prakash, who was born and raised in India, her mother Karen, and her sister Jessica – slept, I stared in awe out of the van windows as my first sights of India streaked into view. I was instantly struck by the undeniable poverty; sleeping people littered the streets, stray animals wandered aimlessly, and crumpled cardboard shelters formed shantytowns along the roadside. I had never seen such desolation before.

But India is not a country defined by its poverty. It is a nation characterized by its unique culture and warm people.

 Our trip began with a week-long stay in a third story flat owned by Prakash’s family friend right in the heart of jam-packed Pune. I had barely recovered from my jetlag and swollen ankles before we began exploring the streets surrounding our modest apartment. Pune can be best summarized as chaotic beauty. The roads were alive with the dangerously erratic surge of rickshaw and pedestrian traffic and I was overwhelmed with the colorful excitement that was India. During that first week, we experienced Pune on bus, rickshaw and foot.

We took advantage of the affordable PMT City Bus tour that not only transported us around the city, but also stopped at popular locations such as the Shaniwarwada mansion (http://www.virtualpune.com/html/localguide/attractions/html/shaniwar_wada.shtml). It was exciting to learn about Indian culture and religion through visits to temples, and equally interesting to gain knowledge of Mahatma Ghandi’s peaceful protest through presentations at the Aga Khan Palace (http://www.virtualpune.com/html/localguide/attractions/html/aga_khan_palace.shtml).

As the first week of our trip concluded, I prepared myself for the whirlwind of travel to come. Our second leg of the trip was a 7 day journey stretching from northern New Delhi to southern Chennai and touching everywhere in between. No temple was left unvisited and no fort unexplored as we rampaged across India in a rush to fit as much as we could into each day.

Highlights included the amazing stone architecture featured in the Shore Temple and Panch Rathas at Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu near Chennai (http://www.mahabalipuram.co.in/index.php), and the exotic elephant ride up to Amber Fort in Jaipur (http://www.jaipur.org.uk/forts-monuments/amber.html). Each day I awoke to new adventures and opportunities that left me in awe. Though we mostly visited typical tourist attractions, we also spent plenty of time experiencing authentic India through interaction with its people.

We often strayed from the beaten path of tourist India and instead spent time drinking afternoon tea with Prakash’s relatives or marveling at the vistas found in rural Bhor, Pune. We even managed to visit a school and talk with elementary-aged students.

For all those seeking to follow my footsteps, be prepared for an exhilarating journey that will forever change your life. India is not the easiest or most conventional country to visit, but the effort yields worthwhile rewards.

My visit to India opened my eyes to the grandness of the world and my own minuteness in comparison. I developed a new appreciation for India and its culture, and ignited in my soul an everlasting passion for travel. 


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