What a place! We had wanted to go to India for years, but had always felt a little apprehensive. This year we took the plunge. We hired a full-time driver who arranged the itinerary and all the hotels, which took away much of the fear of the unknown. We did the “Golden Triangle” of northern India, which includes Delhi (capital), Agra (Taj Mahal) and Jaipur (Amber fort). We added in Ranthambore (tiger safari) and Varanasi (Hindu equivalent of Mecca) and had ourselves a fantastic Northern India tour ready and waiting. It was a complete cornucopia of sights, smells, tastes, and sounds.
One of our favorite parts of worldschooling is the presentations the kids give on the places we visit. Instead of paying for a guide, the kids become our "tour guides" (for a much more reasonable fee!) at most of the places we visit, or give us a recap presentation later, complete with a competitive Kahoot! Sometimes, they just do a writing assignment of what stands out in their mind of a certain place. We have included some of those writings below:
(Click below right to read more . . . . . . )
1. Anna – Ranthambore Tiger Safari
Ok so we did a whole lot of super cool stuff in India. I checked quite a few items off my bucket list, but one of the most awesome things we did was see a Bengal tiger, in the wild, just chill walking around our open top Jeep. So basically we went way far out this one day to a resort place specifically for these safaris, and went once in the morning and once in the evening. During the morning safari, we didn’t see any tigers, but we did see monkeys, deer, a mongoose, some gorgeous birds like an eagle and other sweet animals. We weren’t exactly disappointed, but even more excited to see a tiger on our next safari.
The safaris themselves were like at least 2.5 hours long, of us bouncing along, then waiting silently, then bouncing along, then searching, then hearing a warning call from the monkeys above us and freaking out and waiting a while, then moving along again. So we had traversed our entire zone in the reserve, looking for the elusive cats, and were just hitting our time limit to go back on our evening safari. We had already been on one, and weren’t planning on another, so the tour guide knew we were pretty disappointed, but eager to get showers and sleep. The tour guide also knew that we were much less likely to give his tour a good rating if we didn’t see any tigers. So we stalled in a tiger-sighting point near the entrance along with a bunch of other jeeps likely in the same predicament, us taking turns with the other 3 or 4 waiting, then doing a small circuit, then waiting again. Many of the others turned away and returned until it was just us and one other Jeep in the favored spot.
We were standing up, looking around, and Mom saw a rustling in the grass behind a tree about 100 meters out. Before even the tour guide, she pointed it out to us and we whipped out our cameras and craned in for a better view. The tiger plodded towards us, through the long grass and over the creek, flicking its tail, not a care in the world, as we clicked away, our mouths agape. The tiger walked calmly along the dirt road, marking her territory, freaking out the other Jeep by walking towards it, unafraid, as it backed away, tourists still wide-eyed in wonder. This continued for about 300 meters, the tiger walking along the road between the two jeeps, until she veered off and walked into the reeds. Before it went out of sight, we saw her pounce on a bird in the reeds near the lake, which fluttered and sputtered away before being killed. Then she left, ceasing to grace us with her presence, and left us to scream about the experience to each other while leaving the park. Needless to say, we gave a good review.
2. Tyler – Worldschooling Presentations
Our time in India has been the best. Probably the best part has been the presentations that we have each given. Us kids have been assigned a few sights and places that we have seen to give a presentation. We research everything we can about the place and give a presentation on it of a minimum of however many years old we are. I would give a presentation of a minimum of 14 minutes. We also need to include an interactive activity to go with the presentation. We have a lot of freedom to do it. The activities have ranged from a Kahoot, to a parody of a song, to drawings and life story panels.
We had our own portable history class especially because there were four of us all doing as many as we could and someone would always have one to share. It definitely encouraged us that we were getting paid for our presentations as well. These are the things that we've been studying (just in India): Red fort, Agra fort, Amer fort, Jaigarh fort, Taj Mahal, Jal Mahal, Borobudur, Prambanan, Yogyakarta, Dambulla temple, Humayun's tomb, ceremony of the Ghats, Jaipur, Agra, Delhi, Mughal emperors and more. One thing that we learned a lot about was the Mughal emperors, who built most of the things we saw. It was really exciting to suddenly connect their family tree together as we gave more presentations.
3. Megan – Crazy Driving in Varanasi
Being here in India is crazy!. The traffic is crazy, seriously, I mean CRAZY! The traffic here is awful as it is, but there are also random, stray water buffalo, dogs, and cows that don't respond to and type of honking noise and just lounge about on the street. And if you run into them, you will either create another traffic jam worse than the first, or they won't budge and your bike will be destroyed. CRAZY! If you are in an open tuk-tuk (a type of tiny kart thing), you seriously need earplugs.
This is a normal motorcyclist's thoughts on the road
I will turn left - HONK!
I WILL turn right - HONK!
I think that my honk button is getting too rusty - HONK!!!! HONK!! HONK!!!!!
I am galled by the silence of less than the usual 50 people honking at a time, - HONK! HONK!
I'm Bored, - HONK!!!
Thank you, - HONK!!
Move out of the way cow - HONK!
Seriously move out of the way cow, - HONK!!!!
MOVE OUT OF THE WAY COW! - HOOOOOOOOONK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I will go around you cow, - HONK!
I am going the wrong way on a one way street - HONK! HONK! HONK!! HONK! HONK!!!!!
Coming up on the right - HONK!
Coming up on the left - HONK!!
I have a very high pitched horn - HONK SQUEAK! See isn't it great? HONK!!!!! SQUEAK!!!
I WANT TO MAKE EVERYONE'S EARDRUMS FALL OUT BECAUSE I HAVE AN EXTRA LOUD HORN - HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONK
It is enough to explode my brain. Another thing is, there might be lanes, but I couldn't even tell because we were so packed on the street. Once during the drive, my foot was dangling of the side and a motorcyclist inched by and if he had been going fast, he would have hit my foot, probably breaking five bones in the process. After that, I kept myself inside the dented vehicle. Great experience.
4. Jacob – Amazing Artisan Craft Shops
(Some context here. As a preview to Jacob’s post, I’ll explain that we went to two different craft stores, to learn how local artisans make the products. The first was a marble inlay factory. The second was a silk weaving factory. The marble inlay factory was in Agra, near the Taj Mahal. It was truly astonishing to watch the two craftsman work, the first to carve the design out of the flat raw marble piece, in which the other pieces would be inlaid. The second artisan took the tiny pieces of shell and gemstone and shaped them into the thousands of pieces required for the intricate designs. At the weavers, we watched the old Indian men at their looms, with thousands of strands of the finest silk coming together to make beautifully intricate pictures. At each place, they gave us a complimentary drink)
OMYGOSH, the marble shop was AMAZING!!!! We went to a marble shop which is a bunch of different types of marble (white marble, green marble, and black)!!! It was SOOOOOOO delicate!!! There were pieces of marble that were 2 millimeters sq, and they carved the other piece of marble just with a chisiel!!! It was SOOOOOO cool to watch them do it!!! There was this type of marble that glows in the moonlight!!! They had marble chessboards, marble thingies of the Taj Mahal, marble statues of stuff, you name it (if you can tell, that was like the first time that I have ever used that idiom)!!! Apparently, if you spill something on it, it wont get stained!!! It's COMPLETELY Stain-proof!!! AND WE GOT SPRITE!!!!!
OMYGOSH, the weaving-thingy shop was AMAZING!!! There was a bunch of different tools and they were AAMMAAZZIINNGG!!! There are, just in the city of Varanasi, 7,600 looms!!! (They're big) There are only 75 people IN THE WORLD who has good enough memory to remember all of the 10,000 knots, and we saw TWO OF THEM!!! Then we went into the shop, and there were like 1,000 different bedspreads, scarves, blankets, etc,.!!! Considering that in 6 hours you can only make 2 centimeters of weaving... YEAH!!! On one piece there were a total of 14,000 different strings!!! AND WE GOT SPRITE!!!!!
5. Tera - Feeling pulled to India
There have been 4 things that have been pulling me to go to India for many years: 1. The Taj Mahal. 2. Rising Stars Outreach. 3. Indian food. 4. Wanting to understand Indian history, culture and people better. While living in Asia, however, we shied away from going based upon many recommendations that it wasn't a great place to go with young children. This year, as we had more flexibility in travel and time, we decided to go to India at a time when the weather was best, when we could see the sights we wanted to see, PLUS our whole family could spend a week volunteering at the leprosy school in Chennai with RSO, a charity that has had my heart for many years. So, we made the commitment to return back to Asia, booked our flights, donated to the RSO to reserve our spots, and planned 7 weeks with perfect precision in order to be back in time for Thanksgiving with family in Utah. I was super excited that India, with this wanted balance of contributing and traveling, was finally going to happen.
But, as it goes . . . things changed. About a month later, I received a call from RSO that they had to close their volunteer program temporarily, as the Indian government was turning volunteers away at the border - fearing that these volunteers were taking jobs away from locals. I was a bit crushed, but totally understood their dilemma. Glad I could still support this fantastic charity financially, and glad that it had already given me the push I needed to get to India, we continued forward with our plans. We exchanged our week in Chennai for a week split between Sri Lanka and the Maldives (I know - bummer ;-) ), added in a side trip volunteering in Cambodia, and, while I still hope to make it to RSO someday, am super happy with how our Asia trip is turning out.
I totally LOVED visiting the Taj Mahal. I could eat biryani and samosas and tandoori and naan and paneer and roti and curry all day long. I have a bit better grasp on India and the influences of Buddhism and Hinduism and Islam and Jainism, and the differences between Sanskrit and Urdu and Hindi and Punjabi and Tamil, and what the caste system is, and why the Ganges River is important. I knew nothing of the Mughal empire before we landed in India. While I didn't get to push my comfort zone as I had wanted to by physically serving and caring for the lepers of India, I am able to still sponsor a few children for the school year. I'm so glad we made trip, and I'm so glad we went together as a family. So much of what we loved and learned while living in Southeast Asia has its roots in India, and it was great to discover this.
My Favorites: Taj Mahal in Agra; Tiger safari and astronomy class in Ranthambore; Hindu worshippers by the droves and their Ganges River ritual bathing in Varanasi; Street food samosas for $.07 each; Indian women's colorful clothing (shalwar kameez and saris) - so beautiful!; Super friendly local people.
6. Erik – Hindu Temple Worship –
We visited a Hindu Temple in Delhi, at a time of day when there were a multitude of worshippers gathered for an evening ceremony. There was a large clanging bell that each petitioner jumped up to ring, for good luck, over their head as they entered one by one. One of the three acting priests was blowing loudly into a conch shell, a long sustained bellow, like a lighthouse foghorn cutting through the incense smoke hanging in the air. Three performers (singer, drummer, and hand organ player) sat cross-legged on a raised platform to the side of the decorated sanctuary, playing the keyboard, pounding on the hide-stretched drum and singing sacred Hindu canticles into a blasting PA system. Another priest chanted aloud, his voice echoing off the stone walls with mesmerizing sing-speak incantations, a Hindu call to prayer to the multitude of supplicants. Cars and trucks and scooter horns blared and squawked on the crowded road outside the open-air temple windows and columns, the car drivers sealed in their transportation cans oblivious to the commotion they caused and the rites they disturbed. The worshippers crowded in to peer through the narrow carved stone door frame, waving hands over their heads, or kneeling down with arms and foreheads pressed devoutly against the paving stones, chanting aloud to themselves in a swell of bodies, men, women and children. Inside the enclosed holy chamber, a 3rd priest held aloft a flaming yellow candle and thick green smoldering incense stick, smoke belching visibly and voluminously from the blackened wick and glowing-red ember, waving them around in the air in a choreographed ritualized dance of the arms like a floating ballerina firework twirling and prancing before the Vishnu god statue. Vishnu itself glowed appreciatively, ablaze in color with candlelight reflected on glittering gemstones, gold and silver all emblazoned on his multiple idol heads, arms and hands. It was a cacophony of sight and sound and smell and I stopped to absorb the scene leaning back against a polished marble column to look and listen and feel and take it all in. Honestly, it felt less than worshipful in my limited and comparatively monochromatic church and temple adoration experience. But it was so alive and loud and bright and brash and unapologetic in its presence. From an eternal spiritual perspective, I have no doubt that in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have what the Lord has passed on through prophets as a model of worship for us to follow. But from an in-the-moment temporal and physical sensory perspective, the Hindu temple was a literal evening fireside feast!
6. Condensed overview of 10 days in India –
We took a 10-day trip of northern India, so we saw quite a bit. The sightseeing first took us to Delhi to important Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples, Humayun’s Tomb (resting place for a former Mughal Emperor), Memorial and burial site of Gandhi, and the old city. We drove 4 hours to see Agra and the Taj Mahal, which did NOT disappoint. It was a stunning structure in every way. This was a HUGE bucket list check for Tera, and one of the reasons she has been wanting to come to India for so long. We also saw the first of many ancient red sandstone fort/palaces structures (also Delhi Red Fort, Agra Amber Fort, Fatepuhr Sikri and Jaipur Amer Fort). Each was unique, but also very similar, all being built for the same purpose during the 300 year reign of the Mughals. We drove to Ranthambore National park where we slept in bungalows and took two jeep safari treks and caught sight of the elusive Bengal Tiger in the wild! It was awesome. We continued on to Jaipur to complete the triangle and saw a few more UNESCO world heritage sites, then flew to Varanasi, the spiritual capital of Hindu India. We watched bathing ceremonies in the Ganges river, and saw funeral processions and ongoing cremations on the riverbanks. The city was cacophony of honks and horns and hoots, and our evening tuk-tuk ride sent us all home with headaches. We finished the week with a cooking class (we LOVE Indian food!) and a meal in a local home with incredibly gracious hosts, celebrated a bit of Diwali, and decided that we love India and would return to see more of this incredible country without a second thought.
Some may ask about the level of visibly poverty, and whether that was uncomfortable. Our response would be that what we experienced wasn’t much more than what we’ve seen and experienced in many other Asian countries and capitals, so we were not taken by surprise, at all. However, please note that in most of the places we visited, we were in an air-conditioned van with a driver and a guide. We were actually pleasantly surprised how well everything seemed to run, especially in Varanasi at the height of their religious pilgrimage celebration.
Plan? What plan?
Our first Gap Year was a fabulous "2017-2018 School Year" of travel: from the Netherlands to Jordan to Texas to Hawaii to Mexico to Central America to London and back to the Netherlands. Our "2018 Summer Vacation" took us all around Western Europe, back to the USA on a transatlantic cruise, a road trip through New York and into Canada, and ending up in Utah. We have now kicked off the "2018-2019 School year" with a trip to Asia. Follow along with us on our visits to new places, as well as revisiting some of our favorite places from our time living there. It's going to be great!!