Last month I embarked on a unique Road Scholar program to India, The President’s Journey 2014: Wonders of India, with several close friends and colleagues. I was expecting an amazing experience, but I wouldn’t have guessed that this was going to be the adventure of a lifetime, an unforgettable journey through an exotic land of rich cultures and crackling modern energy.
Before leaving, per tradition, I packed a couple of travel necessities – tissues in a pack, Pepto-Bismol, and hand sanitizer. I also added peanut butter and crackers in case I didn’t like the food (which I ended up falling in love with!)
Watching the sun set over the marble domes of the Taj Mahal with Paula (on the left)
We started our learning adventure in the bustling, vibrant city of Mumbai and ended in Old Delhi, with several fascinating stops along the way. We enjoyed exclusive field trips and presentations led by Road Scholar’s top India experts, experienced the opulence of Moorish and Mughal architecture, and learned what life is like in India today as we met and interacted with the people at universities and in private homes. Meeting with locals was such a privilege; we learned so much about Indian customs and traditions from them.
My colleague Christina with a fascinating Indian man who has not spoken in over 20 years!
We were treated to field trips to grand fortresses and even to the offices where Gandhi’s powerful nonviolent protest movement was planned. One of the most profound moments for me was when we visited the shrine where Gandhi took his final steps in New Delhi. I am still thinking about my visit to the Gandhi museum and contemplating the impact this one man had on so many people around the world – the small, simple museum built to honor him in Delhi and the visit to his Mumbai home which left lasting impressions starting and ending my journey.
Another experience I cherished was visiting an elementary school in the rural countryside outside of Jaipur. I brought some books about Gloucester, MA (my home town) along with a wall calendar of photos. We spent a wonderful afternoon learning about each other and planting trees together. This is the same school where another Road Scholar program, Teaching English in India’s Princely State of Rajasthan, visits as part of its service learning itinerary.
The participants, much like the country, were also unique and exceptional – I overlapped with four different Road Scholar groups and everyone enjoyed the camaraderie and educational activities together. It was so much like a close group of friends it was hard to believe we all had met for the first time. I also stepped out of my comfort zone (one of my travel resolutions for 2014 that I blogged about in January) by trying Indian food. To my surprise, I absolutely loved it and now consider myself a convert!
After we returned, my lovely colleague Paula and I had the opportunity to share our reflections on the program during a slideshow presentation for Road Scholar staff at our Boston headquarters. It was great to relive the experience through our photos of beautiful landscapes, frescoed fortress, magnificent temples and mosques, the incomparably exquisite Taj Mahal, and the beautiful, expressive faces of the Indian people we were lucky enough to meet and learn from. I think Paula summed the experience up best: “When we arrived, we immediately began to note all of the differences between us, from how we look, to what we eat, to how we live our daily lives. When we left, we had learned a powerful lesson: we are all the same, no matter where we’re from.”