The Incredible Journey
For the past twenty days we have been on a quest. Initially, this trip was about being briefly immersed into a different culture, resuming the relationships established by previous trips and creating a shared experience between a small, but representative, group from the Dublin School community. We certainly accomplished these tasks while also establishing new expectations and views of ourselves and those around us. Not surprising given that we were halfway around the world in a place defined so deeply by religious, cultural and historic roots. Each of us came on this adventure for separate reasons and with different goals, but we all return home with new ideas and an increased appreciation for what makes us human.
We are, of course, changed. Every experience affects us. And this isn’t to say there will be an immediate difference in our routines and practices. After some rest we most likely will comfortably slide back into our daily lives and familiar habits. Yet, this has been a powerful experience. For some it may sit in the back of our memories until stirred by another event or experience. For others, we may be quick to share all that we saw and heard with intent to express our gratitude and appreciation for the gift to travel. But for all, it will be a moment in our lives that will, in some way, shape how we look at our world – internally and externally.
As group leaders, the challenge for Emily, Jay and me has been to find ways to have the students reflect and share their thoughts and feelings. It’s not entirely necessary for them give such expressions, but we have been trying throughout the trip to assess the impact of the various experiences we have had. These students are inherently introverts. They have been internalizing their contemplations, although we are confident that each of them has been ruminating in their own way.
We have really only seen a small part of India, but even in just this sliver we have experienced vastly different cultures and norms. Delhi, like any large city, is a microcosm of many different traditions and ways of living. The old mixes with the new and neighborhoods are defined by which part of the spectrum they fall. The striking difference lies in the villages and small cities that dot the mountainsides we traveled through. High in the mountains the inhabitants of Chaukori and Munsiari struggle to maintain their respective identities and customs. They are isolated but accessible if you are willing to dart along winding roads cut out along cliffs and through valleys. Both have embraced tourism as a possible form of income and chance to continue to survive in their ancestral homes. In Chaukori, new hotels have opened and construction of a casino looms strikingly on a cliff above the Himalaya Inter College. Meanwhile, the people of Munsiari offer homestays as a way to supplement their meager incomes without making major changes to their daily lives. And yet neither town has car loads of visitors streaming into their village centers. Certainly both have much to offer with stunning views and access to the Himalayas, but their distance from major city centers keeps most people at bay.
That was not the case in Nanital. The city surrounds a mountain lake and is just an hour drive from the last northern stop on the Indian Train. Once frequented by the colonial British as a “hill station,” the architecture is a mix of traditional Indian homes and markets, and European style villas and churches. The people we shared the hotel with and walked along the streets with were seemingly trying to shed their Indian heritage and embrace the “western” image. After having spent two weeks in the small villages it was nice to pamper ourselves and travel as tourists, but it was also cause for us to really look at the value and importance of our experiences in Chaukori and Munsiari.
We are returning home the better because of our incredible journey. In some way, yet to be determined, we look forward to sharing what we have seen and learned and hope to plant the seed for another expedition to this fascinating place. Distance and geography no longer separates the people of this planet. While a homogeneous world we are not, it would seem we are moving in that direction. Trips like this give us the opportunity to see and share cultures, hopefully in an effort to preserve and understand them, not to eradicate the treasure that is difference. We are all human, but the intricate variations defined by time and place are what make us rich.