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Jaipur – Kites, Tigers, Elephants…oh my! – January 14th

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We were lucky enough to be in Jaipur for the International Kite Festival.  Hundreds of kites flew in the skies as well as decorated the trees and streets.  If you have read The Kite Runner, the festival has the same premise – try to cut the string of another kite flying near you.  And if you are walking on the street, pick up any fallen kite and it is yours.  The kites are simple in color and shape – rhombuses decorated with no more than two colors and they do not have tails.  The kite string contains glass, so there is an art to flying it to prevent cuts.  Raj showed us how to fly the kite, but we didn’t have enough time to each try it out.

The purpose of visiting Jaipur was to experience the culture.  We started the day with a short elephant ride to the Amber Fort.  The fort was built in the 16th century and is an example of Hindu architecture.  Up until now, we have only visited Muslim-inspired architecture.  It is an enormous structure placed strategically upon a hill.  It is surrounded by a large wall which helped protect the palace from invaders.  Within the palace, the women were able to enjoy celebrations and festivals from above.  They would be seated looking through a marble, lattice opening so they could see out, but those outside could not see in.  There is also a Hall of Mirrors, which served as an area to host guests.  The walls are intricately decorated in a mosaic with ivory, mirrors, and glass.  Between the narrow hallways and steep staircases, you could easily get lost inside.

Our Group at the Amber Fort

Amber Fort Hall of Mirrors

We made a quick stop before lunch to a textile store where workers demonstrated block printing and rug making.  All the rugs are handmade – an 8 x 10 ft. rug takes two workers five months to complete.  It was neat to see how much labor goes into making these beautiful rugs.  We were given two options for lunch – McDonalds or the restaurant at the Holiday Inn.  We chose the Holiday Inn.  It gave the option to have a break from Indian food, if you wanted.

The City Palace, located in the center of town, was our next stop.  The palace was and still is home to the Maharaja, the royal figure head of the state of Rajasthan.  It has been the set of a few Hollywood films and has a beautiful courtyard where each door resembles a peacock for each season.  History lesson: the peacock is the national bird of India.  Our tour guide said the peacock was chosen because it is loyal and only has one mate for life.  Next door was the Jantar Mantar, an observatory.  It was built in the 18th century and contains stone instruments that measure time, predict eclipses, and track stars’ locations.

Peacock Courtyard at City Palace

But the highlight of the day was an elephant safari!  The group divided into pairs and climbed a platform to sit in a seat resting on the elephant’s back.  All the elephants have similar paintings on their heads and trunks.  All of the elephants were female, and as our guide explained, “males are dangerous, just like people” while laughing.  The safari took us through the jungle (think dry, sandy ground – desert like, but with vegetation).  Our elephant’s name was Noori.  Noori is 22 years old and has been giving rides for four years.  Throughout the ride, Noori made a rumble-like noise, which our guide informed us was a loving noise toward her mom, who was in front of us.  Our guide spoke better English than most and credits tourists for helping him learn the language.  He also told us that each morning he takes an hour to bathe Noori and an additional hour to “clean up” her living space.  The ride lasted about an hour and took us by a reserve which houses lions and tigers rescued from circuses.  At the end of the tour, we got to feed whole bananas (peel and all) to Noori and the other elephants.  We were able to watch the sun set over the hills before jeeps took us back to our bus.  It was a really great experience and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Laura (left) and Elizabeth (right) with Noori!

Elephant Safari Through the Jungle

Painted Elephant

Sunset After a Great Day in Jaipur

The group ended the night on the hotel’s roof top to celebrate the birthdays of Andrea and Sarah, our advisor.  It was a nice way to end our short trip to Jaipur.

Laura Bondi & Elizabeth

Delhi to Agra – January 12 – 13

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We had an early morning on the 12th when we started our trip to Agra; however, before we left Delhi we stopped to take pictures at India gate. India gate was built as a memorial to the soldiers who died in the First World War. While we were at India gate we were able to watch some soldiers practicing their marches for the Independence Day celebration, which is on January 26th. We then had to drive 6 hours to Agra, which was only 170km, but because of the back roads and traffic it made it longer. Agra is considered a smaller town in India even though it is home to nearly 3 million people. On our way to Agra we took a short break at a hotel. We then got back on the road where we were able to see the true countryside of India. There were acres and acres of lush farmland. This is the true heart of India since nearly 70% of India’s population still lives in rural areas. The whole time we drove there was not more than three minutes where I didn’t see someone either working in the fields or running through the streets. Once we arrived in Agra we went straight to the Taj Mahal which was built by Shah Jahan after his wife passed away at the age of 39 while having her 14th child. He made a promise to her that he would never marry again and that he would build something in her memory. The Taj Mahal was built in the 17th century starting in 1631 and took nearly 22 years to complete by 20,000 workers working around the clock. In fact the tower is completely symmetrical and looks the exact same from all four sides of the building. The only assemmetrical aspect of the Taj is the addition of Shah Jahan’s body in the main moseleum after his death which was originally unplanned. When looking at the four towers on the corners of the Taj Mahal it is not an optical illusion but they are all leaning slightly outwards. This is because if any of them were to fall for any reason in the future they would fall outwards and not hit the main building of the Taj. On either side of the Taj are identical buildings. On the left one is used as a mosque where muslims can come in and pray on Fridays which is when the Taj is closed to tourists. On the right was a building that was once used a guest house. One of Shah Jahan’s main requests was that the Taj had to be build next to a river. In fact the reflecting pool uses water from the river which is why it is constantly flowing. Another of his requests was that the Taj was isolated from other buildings and other things that could compromise the integrity of the building. This is why today when you visit the Taj normal vehicles are not allowed past a certain point because of pollution from exhaust. The beautiful white marble was Shah Jahan’s trademark and had to be shipped from other parts of the country. Overall the seeing the Taj Mahal in person was surreal and just imagining all of the effort and work put into the monument is collasal.

After seeing the Taj Mahal; we went to a marble factory where decendents of the Taj sculpters still practice the carving of marble. We were taught a lesson on how to distinguish good marble from fakes and given some time to shop around. Inside their store they also had a replica of the Taj Mahal that was not for sale because it took four workers nearly 10 years to complete. From the marble factory we went to a local restaurant where we were able to experience some of the food that is typically served in southern India.

The next day we were able to see the Agra fort which was built 100 years before the Taj Mahal and took four generations of workers until it was complete. It is easy to see what additions were made while Shah Jahan ruled because he once again brought in white marble. He was held in the fort under house arrest near the end of his life by his youngest son who killed his older brothers and imprisioned his father so he could rule the kingdom. After the Agra fort we started on our journey to Jaipur which was an estimated 6-7hrs drive. We stopped for lunch along the way at a restaurant with Indian food from the local state. We also stopped to feed monkeys bananas which we bought from a local street vendor. When we arrived in Jaipur we took a short rest and then most of the group went out to a popular market place with affordable souveniers. Lastly we went to a restaurant that is locally known for having some of the best Indian food in town.

Jada and Nakhila

Salaam Balaak Trust – January 11

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We started our day by immersing ourselves within the streets of Delhi. It was an eye opening experience to see piles among piles of trash everywhere we looked. As we got off our bus, we met our guides, two twenty-year-old boys who were able to overcome the misfortune from their childhoods. We were then led through narrow alleyways and cluttered living spaces until we reached an all-boy orphanage called Salaam Baalak Trust. Salaam Balaak Trust gave our guides the opportunity to have a life outside of poverty and the harsh conditions they had everyday on the streets. The experience was both moving and humbling; on one hand we were reminded of all the great opportunities we have been given in life and how lucky we are to have a family and go to school, and on the other hand we were shameful to ever have wanted anything more than a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs. Such an astonishing number of the world’s population lives in similar poverty-stricken conditions to what we witnessed on our tour, yet the fortunate “one percent” rarely see those conditions. They are completely oblivious to the struggles of living life on a day-to-day basis and not knowing where each meal is coming from. While participating in games with the children and other activities such a drawing, we were able to connect and see how similar they are to us, despite the conditions in which we were all raised. The boys were excited about life just as we were at their age, and it was so neat to see.  Conversations during and after our tour consisted of many emotions that were not felt previously on our trip. Several students even expressed a desire to call their parents and let them know how much they love and miss them following the accounts told by our guides. All in all we are appreciative of the experience we received and were more than happy to bring joy, if only for a few hours, into the lives of all the boys in Salaam Baalak Trust. After such a moving event, we wanted to make a difference hope to spread the word to our friends and family to try rid the world of such unfortunate living conditions and vast amounts of poverty.

After the unforgettable experience earlier in the day, we took a thirty-minute bus ride to the market. There were so many shops containing scarves, saris, jewelry and pretty much anything you can think of. It was a great time and after a few hours of shopping, the group piled into taxis and went off to the hotel. We are interested to see rural India as we make our way towards Agra to see the Taj Mahal. For many of us the Taj Mahal was the deciding factor for choosing this trip and it will be a rewarding experience to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Erica and Sammi

Jugaad – January 10

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Tuesday January 10, 2012

We had a later start this morning because our first stop of the day was at 10:00 am. Today’s cultural experience was at the National Museum of India. The museum was chilly inside. Many of the public buildings in Delhi are not heated because the weather is typically warmer but January is part of their cold season. It was unexpected to be cold inside this building. After we went through security we were each given a personal audio guide so we could learn about the background for certain artifacts through out the museum.

With India’s long history many of the pieces in the museum were incredibly old. One figurine of a dancing lady was from 2,000 BC. It was almost impossible to comprehend the scale of India’s past. The museum included pottery, figurines, paintings, armor, coins, and much more. Unfortunately some of the galleries were being renovated at the time of our visit and we were unable to experience the museum to the full extent. We enjoyed getting a better understanding of the historical context of India.

We found out today that it is hard to make any definite plans in India. While searching for a lunch stop we were given vague directions and eventually ended up at a DOMINOS. Just imagine thirty Americans crammed into a tiny Dominos. It was definitely an experience to remember. After lunch we finished our day with a visit to the Institute of Management Technology in Ghaziabad, India. We were greeted by students and staff and taken to a conference room for a presentation. Introductions were made and then Dr. Gupta and President Lambert gave an overview of Elon. The Institute of Management Technology is a top ten business school in India. Currently there are around 3500 such schools. IMT prides itself on its opportunities for exchange students and corporate linkages. Much like Elon, IMT has a Wi-Fi campus, 24-hour library, and a fully residential campus. Two professors from IMT spoke to us about topics related to our course. The first was a Talk on Indian Business and Economy. This lecture discussed India’s size, ideals, and potential for growth. The second professor gave a lecture titled: Talk on Jugaad- Innovation in the Indian Context. A Jugaad in its literal meaning is an incredibly inexpensive vehicle made of random parts. In the business world, Jugaad is a strategy for innovation driven by aspiration and vision rather than definite plans. This style of innovation is flexible, fast, and incredibly inexpensive. Business in India relies on this type of innovation and the ability to mainstream the results in order to thrive. During a tour of the university we were able to meet with students and relax a bit. This included a brief attempt at cricket. After visiting the national museum and getting a first hand look at a university, we all couldn’t be happier to be here and we are looking forward to what’s to come.

Delhi City Tour – January 9

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Today was our tour of the city of Delhi, the political capital of India. The day started with a bit of a culture shock, having come from such an advanced and modern city in Dubai. The streets here are covered in garbage and wild dogs and cats are abundant. At the tourist destinations it is near impossible to avoid the begging children and hecklers hawking useless merchandise. What makes Delhi so fascinating however, is the convergence of modern and ancient India. We started our tour of the city in Old Delhi, at Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India. Jama Masjid was truly beautiful, made of the same red stone that the famous Red Fort of Delhi is made from.  The size of the mosque was unbelievable compared to the more practical mosques we saw in Dubai. According to our guide, the mosque can have anywhere from 20,000-25,000 people in it on any given weekend.

After seeing the Jama Masjid, we got off our bus and onto “rickshaws”, which took us through the winding streets and markets of Old Delhi that our bus simply could not get us to. We saw some incredible stuff in there, including the wedding, book, paper, and silver markets to name a few. One of the things that were most interesting was the shear chaos of the scene.   The narrow, dirt streets were packed with cyclists, motorcyclists, cars, walkers, stray animals, and carts being pulled by oxen – all going in every direction possible it seemed.

After the rickshaw experience, we visited Raj Ghat, the memorial and cremation site of Mahatma Gandhi.  The memorial had a powerful impact on the group because of how influential a figure Gandhi was, not just in India, but throughout the entire world.  After the visit to the Raj Ghat, we stopped for lunch in a local market, where the group had the opportunity to break out into smaller groups and taste the local food and pick up a variety of souvenirs.

We then traveled to Qutub Minar, a large tower built to represent victory. It is notable because it is one of the earliest and most prominent examples of Indo-Islamic architecture in India.  The tower is surrounded many other sets of ruins, none however standing nearly as tall as Qutub Minar. At the site is the “Iron Pillar”, dated back to the Gupta period that has supposedly never rusted.

We finished our city tour of Delhi with Humayun’s tomb, the burial place of the Mughal Emperor Humayun. Supposedly, Humayun’s tomb served as inspiration for the Taj Mahal, which we will be visiting later in our trip. The tomb was built in 1562 AD, making it 550 years old. It was a beautiful site, and one I don’t think anyone in our group will forget.

We ended the day with a nice “welcome dinner” at the Royal Plaza.  It was a great opportunity for all of us to mingle and reflect on what a truly incredible day we had had as our first in India.




Final Days in Dubai – January 7 – 8

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On the 7th, we began our last full day in Dubai. We had the day free to explore the city and hit any sights we missed previously. Many people from our class got up in the morning to go to Jumeriah Beach Park. This public beach cost only about two US dollars. It had a beautiful view of the Burj Al Arab and the Burj Khalifa, as well as a fantastic stretch of sand and gulf. Some people chose to go to the two malls—Dubai Mall and The Mall of the Emirates—as well. We shopped and many tried camel burgers for lunch. They were certainly unique and unusual. At The Mall of the Emirates, people took in the indoor slopes of Ski Dubai. It is definitely unusual to see snow in the middle of the desert. The malls have a lot of unique architecture. The Dubai Mall also has an aquarium and an ice skating rink. A few lucky students got tickets to the top of the Burj Khalifa. They went up to the observation deck in the early evening. There were telescopes that allowed then to see the city as it looks in the daytime as well. At the end of the free day, some students went out on the town one last time. A group ran into our tour guide out at the bar. Though we all were feeling reluctant to leave Dubai, we were excited about our journey to India. We also were relieved to be heading somewhere that would hopefully be a little less pricey.

On the 8th, we checked out of our hotel and headed to the Dubai airport to fly to Delphi. We ate lunch in he airport as we all waited for our flight. On our flight to Delphi, we all received our first taste of India. The airport was crowded and had much more relaxed security than we see in the United States. The city was overwhelmingly crowded compared to Dubai. The traffic was chaotic and quite frightening from time to time. We quickly learned that it operates on the principle of organized chaos. Delhi was also dirty and disorganized compared to the neat order of Dubai. We checked into the Hans Plaza Hotel. The entrance was gated and had much more security than we saw in Dubai. Though some students went out to dinner and drinks, most were very tired and ate in the coffee shop in the hotel before going to bed. The hour and a half time change made many even more tired, and we all wanted to be well rested for our first full day in India.

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