India, March 2018

Robin Lange, English

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.
- Mark Twain, “Innocents Abroad”
There is little more influential in one’s search for wisdom than travel. At Grace, we believe in setting the foundation for students to understand themselves and the world around them. India is an inspiring place for Grace students to experience this awakening.
To take part in this trip, 19 eighth-through-eleventh graders attended an elective class on India, researching topics from history to architecture to Bollywood. Students were well prepared in their knowledge of the country, but, like the works of the great masters, nothing is quite the same as seeing.
            For many, the fourteen-and-a-half hour flight to Delhi was the longest we had ever been on. Landing at Indira Gandhi International Airport, we were a mix of bleary-eyed, weary travelers, and wide awake, eager explorers. New York had been gray and chilly, but Delhi was hot and sunny, and when we were met at the arrivals gate by our tour, we were decked in garlands of marigolds to welcome us. This was an auspicious start to an amazing tour of the “golden triangle” of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur.
For our first day in India, a local guide toured us through some of the major sights of Old and New Delhi, including markets, mosques and Mughal tombs. As if that was not enough for one day, we finished our whirlwind tour of Delhi at the poignant Gandhi Memorial Museum. The Mahatma’s final steps are laid out with concrete reliefs of his feet, traveling from his bedroom in Birla House (now called Gandhi Smriti) through the garden to where he was assassinated on his way to prayer. Individually, we quietly walked alongside Gandhi, learning more about his life’s work from the exhibition. The history of Gandhi is, in many ways, the history of India. It is rousing and tragic all at once, weaving the stories of both the political leaders and members of the lower castes struggling for their lives.
We then travelled to Agra. Located in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Agra is a very different city from Delhi. The smell of polluted water was hard to miss as we entered the Red Fort. Nevertheless, we were impressed by the Mughal architecture and history of the ancient city. Our visit to the Taj Mahal was awe-inspiring. Our final tour city was Jaipur, the “Pink City,” where we were faced with the vast socio-economic disparities that exist in India. To get from the main road to our hotel, we took jeeps past small streets and alleyways where children drew their water from a communal pump every morning. We visited the ancient fort and castle of Amer, Jaipur City Palace, saw industrial centers of pottery, fabric, and paper production, and also left the confines of the city to visit a remote village, Siras, in the bush of Rajasthan, the ancestral home of our tour guide Shiv.
In Siras, we were greeted by a marching band and a young local man Shiv called “the pride of the village,” who led us through the village. We watched a potter at his wheel as people came from their homes to greet us and walk with us. One Grace student even got a fetching haircut from the barber, our guide’s father. Visiting a traditional village allowed students to witness the role of the caste system in Indian Society. As we arrived at Shiv’s haveli, a Brahmin was blessing his family’s ancestral weapons. Shiv further explained his family’s role as members of the ruling Kshatriya caste. The longer we travelled around India, the more differences from our home culture we saw.
The perfect end to our trip was a five-day homestay with families from the Vasant Valley School in Delhi. Students stayed in the homes of ‘buddies,’ many of whom visited Grace in the spring of 2017. For some, this was the hardest, but most rewarding part of the trip. We were in homes, but not our homes. We were at school, but not our school. The slightly familiar was notably unfamiliar. Even with the uncertainty of staying in foreign homes, friendships were forged between Grace students and new acquaintances at Vasant Valley. After five days of getting to know our new friends in Delhi, Vasant hosted a going away party for us in their courtyard. Students danced together and gathered excitedly to choose the next song that would be played. Like teenagers all around the world, music and laughter were the keystone bringing these groups together.