By Charlie Li
I never thought I would find myself in New Delhi, India, and the driving was the first thing that made me feel like I was somewhere far away from home. My first impressions were rather worrisome as everyone around our taxi was driving an SUV like a motorcycle. After I understood it, though, I soon came to learn that honking in New Delhi was simply a polite and casual factor of driving. Similar to my thoughts on New Delhi’s driving, the food was scary at first as I possibly have the lowest spice tolerance in the group. At our first meal, I drank down four full bottles of water without hesitation to cope with the spiciness of my butter chicken wrap. Safe to say that mild is still very spicy for me, but at least I was well hydrated. After a couple more meals, though, I started getting better at the spice factor. I could pace myself better when we were eating so that I could enjoy India’s spices while finding comfort in the food.
New Delhi’s chaos was an organized type. It was interesting to see how everyone worked together on the road. Landour, Mussoorie was the complete polar opposite of New Delhi. It was peaceful and high up in the mountains; the winding roads up to Landour felt dangerous and sketchy at first, but quite thrilling. At the time, it seemed like a quick getaway from New Delhi. Though, I soon came to realize that the same “reckless driving” was somewhat apparent in the mountains. Going up the winding roads, it seemed like a gambling game if there was another vehicle around the corner. Honking provided a sense of comfort as turning into a massive blind spot required a lot of honking. Again, once I understood what was happening, I felt more comfortable.
The hike up to Agora was possibly the coolest and most difficult hike I’ve done. I’ve really only hiked up Old Rag—but the thin mountain air was not helping as we went up the Himalayas. There were many other hazards to worry about other than the honking of cars. Midway through the hike up to Agora, I was very much in support of the new road getting built up to the village just because I was so tired. However, upon arriving in Agora, just being in the moment and feeling the satisfaction of making it before dark really made me reflect on the different places we have been in these two weeks. New Delhi and Mussoorie had their similarities, but Agora felt completely different. The view was breathtaking and the people there were also breathtaking. The amount of mental and physical strength they have is almost inhuman.
During one of our days in Agora, all the students found a family or a member of the community to help. For around half an hour, I hiked up the mountain a bit more to reach a young lady named Antica. She seemed to be loosening up the rocks and dirt in preparation for plowing. It was clear that there was going to be a language barrier when I arrived, but after I began helping her, we started to make small talk with sign language and just motions. It seemed that she had been out since the morning. We said each other’s names, and she explained what she had been doing. After around 30 minutes of working, she left to go back to the village, and working with her was possibly one of the best experiences I’ve had. The host families were also embracing as they welcomed our groups with complete open arms for lunch and dinner. Kamel, his wife, and his two daughters cooked food that was different in a special way—it felt like some serious Indian home cooking. Kamel shared his trekking stories and we shared the sports and habits we enjoyed. It was truly a deep moment as we traded cultures in a vocal and meaningful way.