By Max Power
Part One: Trip Reflections
This is one of the most real things I’ve experienced in my life. It’s one thing to learn about different faraway cultures in school, but actually experiencing it first hand is something completely different. Many times, I have looked out at my surroundings and the people around me and wondered – am I really here?
First, on the drive from Pancheshwar to Rishikesh looking out on the sun setting in the plains with tractors, wagons, and pretty much any type of transportation you could think of speeding past our bus filled to the absolute capacity with people. This made me think of how big this country actually is and how many people live here, as I saw all the people in the packed buses and wagons I thought to myself – where could all of these people be going all with separate lives and different backgrounds setting off on long journeys across the country to maybe find a new job or see family? I realized that I had only just seen a very small part of the county and that there were probably thousands of roads the same as the one we were driving on with millions of people journeying to thousands of different cities and villages. This really helped me wrap my mind around the massive scale of India.
Second, on the hike to Dodital when I was thinking about where I was, I had to stop and think to myself for a second about when I would ever do something like this again. I thought about how I was in one of the only places on the planet that hasn’t been touched by technology and that it was possibly the most secluded and most hard to get to places that I’ve ever been. Then, I would be shocked and astonished by everything going on around me. For this whole trip I have been experiencing something completely different from my normal daily life and routine. Everything seems flipped and completely the opposite from what I am used to but somehow the people here are almost 100 percent self sufficient and are even a lot happier and nicer than most people in the US.
The little things make me stop and realize how cool this experience has been – like, knowing that there are so many different animals living around us like leopards and tigers, giving my plate to the mother from my host family after a dinner, or seeing how happy every holy man is to welcome us into his temple and show us his religion that he has dedicated his whole life to.
There has been times during the trip where everything seems normal till it isn’t in a split second. What I mean by this is I will be doing the activities and talking to people and then I just have a realization about how crazy this place really is and I just have to stop and think about what I just realized. These realizations can be about the most random things and come at the most random times. But I feel like these realizations mainly come when I am in the heart of a community or in the heart of nature, or even just trying to wrap my head around the magnitude of everything in this country.
For many of us, there will be no chance to come back to India unless we travel here ourselves. Coming to Agora and spending time in Pancheshwar (which could be gone in a couple years) are big reasons why I believe this trip was definitely a once in a lifetime experience for me and many others. It is worth coming on, even though there were days where I was wishing I could be back home or I was hating on the food and thinking of cheeseburgers. The people here are happy and healthy without all the things that I think I need to survive and be comfortable. They have many of the same values, but some of them are just a little different such as taking off your shoes in a temple instead of getting dressed up for church, or worshiping many different gods instead of one.
After seeing the way people live here, I have a lot of respect for the way of life of the people. I could never survive living in an Indian village after growing up in a culture so different, full of reliance on outside sources that bring us the goods we need and use in our everyday lives. I have gone many places, but I can say this is the first time I feel like I am out of my western bubble and here I truly don’t have any connection to my life back home. Life is completely different. I don’t exactly know if I fully like that feeling, but what I can say is that it is a good eye opener to the outside world and a unique experience that I will definitely take something away from.
I’ve done my fair share of hating on India as a country and said stuff like there is trash everywhere, I don’t like how polluted the air is, or all the food tastes the same; but, there are things that even out my opinions on the country like spending time in the mountains where the air is clear and fresh, playing with the kids who are energetic and enjoy your company, or talking to people who have been nothing but nice, welcoming, and accepting. So even though waking up for early morning 12 hour drives while permanently being drenched in a coat of sweat or being sick and only eating biscuits for days was a uncomfortable time, I still am able to take this trip as a learning experience and a bonding experience and I feel like I got a lot out of it.
Part 2 – Things I’ve Grown To Appreciate
I am writing this after the largest meal of my life. Praveen’s mom fed me 3 times the amount of food I would normally eat back home and this brings me to talking about some stuff I’ve really grown to appreciate about Indian culture that just doesn’t happen in America.
First thing is meals – I’ve noticed that in any foreign household if you are invited inside you better be hungry and ready for a feast that lasts multiple hours and has infinite courses until you are completely satisfied and well taken care of. This seems to be the same in India, and I have especially been able to see this because we have been eating meals with our host families. For the first couple meals, I was dreading the idea of finishing my plate and multiple servings of more food because I was sick and could not enjoy the food without feeling bad. But since I have recovered, I feel the true effects of the food and really enjoy finishing a meal and feeling fueled and replenished then having a black tea right after. This is so different from how it is back home – usually I watch something while eating or eat my food in 10 minutes and go on with my day. But here I have come to enjoy the hospitality of the families and the longer meals with conversations instead of quickly eating and not really paying attention to anything. Also the whole family gathers to eat together which doesn’t happen often in America since once you turn 18 you leave the house.
This brings me to my next point. I like the idea that families stay together and work together as one; this would never work in the states since kids leave the house once they are old enough as I said earlier. And if kids still lived with their parents at 40, they might be viewed as losers and people would tell them to go get a life and stop using their parents for food and a place to stay. This is one of the places where it is possible for this to happen and it is not looked at as weird. Families are able to get a lot more done by working together and they grow closer from it while families in the US grow apart as the years go by.
The third thing that I have really come to enjoy is the tradition of offering chai all the time in any situation at all times of day as a form of welcoming or thanks. I have been offered chai more times than I can count and will continue to drink tea back in America because I find it comforting and relaxing to sit and drink a chai while talking or after a meal.
Agora has showed me these things really up close and it is easy to see the community in a place like this. Everyone knows each other and everyone is friends which is so hard to find these days in other communities. India is a country with everything from dense cities with traffic and houses built on top of other houses that never end to small interconnected communities that don’t need anything and sustain a healthy life on the sides of terraced foothills. There is a lot to uncover in a country like this and I have gotten the best possible first hand experience that I could have.
Part 3 – The Shocking Reality
Going back to the beginning, I said that my time in India has felt like one of the most real things I’ve ever experienced. What I meant by that is that here, everything feels like a dream until you realize where you are. It’s like you’re somewhere, you snap out and see yourself experiencing it, almost like your outside of your body for a moment and then you snap back in and it all feels even more real. You notice that everything is going on around you, and that you’re not dreaming. And then, there’s a feeling of shock – you think about how you never would have thought about yourself in this place, but you are here. In a kitchen with my host family. Watching the sunset over the plains. On the shores of a holy lake. So then there’s a moment where the setting is right and you think to yourself “this is crazy, I am here, this is not a dream.” And while all that is going on around you, leading you to that experience – it happens. The realness. The moment of transcendence when you feel where you are. So little in such a big place.