Last updated on September 27, 2023
By: Delaney Holman
Photos taken and edited by: Danielle Shannon
Volunteer State offers many different study-abroad opportunities for students meeting certain requirements. One is a partnership with TNCIS to go to India.
I was one of the 13 students who traveled from Tennessee to New York, then across the Atlantic Ocean to New Delhi, India.
I arrived at the BNA airport at 7:30 a.m. and quickly met the 15 others I would spend the next 10 days with.
Only previously knowing Professor Deb Moore we all got to know each other on the 15-hour flight from New York to New Delhi.
Little did I know the wonder we were all about to experience together.
Fresh off the plane and into New Delhi we were greeted by Jaideo (JD), our tour guide, and his bus drivers who met us with necklaces of marigolds, the first of an incredible amount of generosity, welcoming, and love we were to be shown in the coming days.
The drive to our first hotel in Delhi brought conversations of culture and brief lessons of social norms. Such conversations we had previously been immersed in 16 hours earlier sitting on the floor of the JFK airport as Vol States Dr.Shinde explained Indian culture in a way that offered a glimpse outside of the westernized standard I held everything I had ever known up to.
We traveled through the golden triangle of India, three historically significant cities New Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, which tourists often visit consecutively.
The first jump into life and culture in India appeared before all of us as we came to a complete standstill in New Delhi traffic.
Despite the highest population in the world, Delhi alone being home to more people than all of Australia. It is virtually impossible to police all traffic, as there are bigger things to focus on, therefore this culture and density of people who have been living among each other for thousands of years simply find ways to maneuver and live around each other.
At the suggestion of JD, we all walked out of the bus and began on foot weaving in and out of people, cars, motorcycles, and bicycles. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed being in the daylight of New Delhi, India walking in-between cars and catching stares along the way I truly began to feel what real culture shock is.
All different colors, smells, people, languages, and cultures I have never experienced before. A great gratitude fell upon my shoulders thousands of miles away from my home knowing that even across oceans we are all the same.
Over our time in Dehli we-
- Visited Jama Masjid Mosque
- Went on rickshaw rides through Old Delhi
- Visited Gurudwara Bangla Sahib Sikh Temple
- Visited the Ghandhi Museum
- Visited the Lotus Bahá’iʼ Temple
Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, was the next adventure our group would embark upon.
Arriving at the hotel we soon came to realize the Taj Mahal could be seen from the rooftop. We consecutively gazed upon it there and also at the Agra Red Fort which we explored that very day.
Agra’s Red Fort was constructed by the Mughal emperor Akbar, whose grandson Shah Jahan then took rule.
Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal, a perfectly symmetrically planned building constructed out of red sandstone, and marble with meticulously constructed crystal inlay for his third and most beloved wife.
Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son in the Red Fort for planning to build a second more expensive construction. Here he spent his final years gazing upon the Taj Mahal, his love’s final resting place, which would eventually become his as well.
At the crack of dawn we arose and packed into our bus, the sky still dark and the busy city still mostly asleep, we filed out of the bus and into the foreign line at the Taj Mahal.
We viewed one of the 7 wonders of the world as the sun rose and casted colors upon the marble building, which made the Taj Mahal truly fit the name the “symbol of love.”
Over our time in Agra we visited-
- Red fort
- Taj Mahal at sunrise
- Marble Factory
The overwhelming sense of love and culture persisted as we moved to Jaipur, the next and final destination in the golden triangle.
As we entered Jaipur, we first stopped at JDs farm Ikaki Bach.
Ikaki Bach, “one-of-a-kind orchard” in Hindi is a “Model Organic Farm and Farmstay.”
Using completely sustainable and organic farming practices, Ikaki Bach offers this model for other farmers to reproduce in the same fashion.
Ikaki Bach sits directly next to the Jhinjha village of the Bairwa people, which the farm works to “support local people, village farmland and a government primary school,” which resides in the village.
Not only did our group walk through the prosperous and luscious farmland, we next were given the opportunity to meet and spend time together with the children and students living in the village.
Despite the largest language gap we encountered, we were generously welcomed into the village with Tilaka, a cultural tradition of marking one’s forehead with a fragrant paste as an expression of welcoming.
Connections were made through dance, games of patty cake, smiles, and art as we walked through the village.
The theme of connectedness and welcoming loomed over the rest of our adventures as we traveled to Ikaki Niwas, our home for the rest of our trip.
Ikaki Niwas, JD’s family home, and boutique hotel truly does offer the “warmth of family,” which we realized as we were showered with Marigold petals from the terrace upon our arrival.
Here we came to know JD’s family, other hotel guests, and each other.
The inability to access our phones as students gave us the ability to deeply connect each and every day getting to know each other more and more through late-night conversations on the terraces, sharing meals over talks of literature, meditation, yoga, our lives back home, and most importantly Eric Church.
We came to know each other, especially on Holi, the Hindu festival of colors.
Holi has many different origin stories, but as I came to know the festivity when one throws color on another, we all look the same.
If you asked me before Holi what the best day of my life was I wouldn’t have been able to tell you, there is not one day that stands out above the others.
Now, I can tell you on the terrace patio of Ikaki Niwas wearing completely white clothes and throwing colors on people I had just met 7 days before, and some people from the UK I had met that day, I found the most true sense of love, happiness, connection, and uniquely sameness. Being immersed in such a rich culture was the best day of my life.
There is so much to the world when you put your phone down and look around, as JD told me during a visit to the US he found it comical the amount of people on their phones. He said that there are too many people, and too much life happening in India to be distracted by what’s on your phone.
There is life, culture, and vibrance right beyond the bounds of these small devices.
This vibrance I was lucky enough to encounter in the most extreme ways in India from Holi, to being welcomed to religious temples, flower markets, architecture, landscape, and person-to-person connection.
The full day of travel home brought tears and bitterness to having to say goodbye to not just amazing people that I was blessed to travel with, but also a new world and perspective that I can’t thank Vol State, TNCIS, Professor Deborah Moore, Abigail Felber, and Dr.Shinde enough for.
- JD’s farm
- Village visit
- Pottery and tile painting
- Block printing
- Indian Mcdonalds
- Elephant ride to the Amber Palace
- Jewelry demo
- Krishna temple
- Flower market
- Jaipur textile market
- Cooking lesson