New Delhi was truly an awakening. We slept a little, we considered existence and happiness, we ate delicious food near the 2nd largest mosque in Asia, and bright colors, complicated odors and unfamiliar sights generally assaulted us. It was not “easy.” By the end, though, we felt more at home on the other side of the world than most of us thought possible after two weeks, let alone 12 hours.
We navigated busy, perplexing streets in a 35-seater bus driven by Raja, a serious, purposeful man imbued certainly with some amount of “Indian magic.” The dimensions of our meandering were puzzling (as Charlie put it, we moved consistently in a big bus on roads that would have been hard to walk) but our driver was never unsure of what he was doing.
We visited Lodi Gardens, a public park filled with tombs and mosques from the Lodi period. The shady gardens were a perfect place for our first full group discussion. Students volunteered their ideas freely, quieting some understandable concerns amongst the faculty about facilitating meaningful conversations with such large numbers. Our young travelers spoke with confidence about non-duality, the true definition of happiness, how best to measure success, and the importance of cultural perspective and understanding. Ideas bounced and grew off each other. It was a tremendous start – testament to the reason 23 students decided to spend their spring break on a school trip to the other side of the world.
We ate at Karim’s Restaurant, a somewhat hidden icon in Old Delhi near Jamma Masjid. The walk from the bus parking lot to Karim’s was eye opening – when we could look up from the flow of traffic we saw shops selling everything from dental equipment to old tires, people from all over the subcontinent shopping for wedding clothes and jewelry, and countless billboards pushing a mix of western and local gear. Finally, after waiting for coveted seats, we feasted on butter chicken, mutton burra, house dal, chicken biryani, and the restaurant’s famous naan. It was a fitting start to our culinary adventure.
By the time darkness fell, most of the group retreated for much deserved rest. The few who had slept well on the flights to India ventured out to complete several “missions.” We purchased journals for the group, found metal coffee mugs for everyone, tracked down a quality soccer ball and made friends with vendors across Delhi’s largest open-air market. It was an exhausting final push but one that will not soon be forgotten.
The group woke at 10:30pm and moved quickly onward from Hotel Grand Park Inn to New Delhi’s international airport, where we boarded our onward flight to Port Blair. In a trip full of contrasts, our first stop was an essential one. We are now a big step closer to being able to navigate and, at least partially, understand the subcontinent. Delhi opened our senses and relieved some of the pressure of anticipation.