Incredible! There is simply no other word that captures the enigma that is India. Such diversity, from mystical temples to feisty festivals, snow-dusted mountains to sun-washed beaches, lantern-lit villages to bustling metropolitan cities, it’s hardly surprising that India has been dubbed the world's most multidimensional country.”
The masses of people, colourful art and architecture, wandering animals, smells, sounds, etc - it is impossible to express in words our experiences of our visit to India. Travelling on Indian roads is a hair-raising experience with motorized vehicles, animal drawn wagons, tuc tuc's and human powered rickshaws all competing with each other for space to travel. Bang in the middle of this madhouse strolls cows, goats and pigs oblivious to the bedlam around them!
Indian food is as varied as the landscape and languages of the country. Spices are at the heart of all Indian cooking and by and large biased towards a vegetarian diet of which there is a tremendous variety.
Thirteen Trefoil members from Ireland travelled to India in March spending our first week travelling the Golden Triangle. We started our tour in Delhi, the capital of India and its third largest city. In old Delhi one can find many Mosques, Monuments and Forts relating to India's Muslim history. We visited the Red Fort – the walls extend for 2 Km and houses Palaces, Museums, a covered bazar and several different buildings for public and private audiences. New Delhi, created as capital of India by the British, is a spacious open city and contains many embassies and government buildings. Here we visited India Gate, which is a high stone arch bearing the names of 85,000 Indian Army soldiers who were killed in action. We also viewed a Bahia Temple shaped like a lotus flower. Completed in 1986 it is set amongst pools and gardens and peoples of any faith are free to visit the temple and pray or meditate silently according to their own religion.
From Delhi we had a 5 hour coach ride to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal (Dream in Marble) – an exquisite piece of beauty unequalled by any other building in the world. It was built by the Emperor to enshrine the mortal remains of his beloved wife. It cost over 30 million rupees and took 20,000 men to build it in 22 years. We also visited Community projects including hand-knotted Indian rugs, jewellery works and experienced a local fabric market!
Another 6 hour drive took us to Jaipur (Pink City) stopping off at a famous Bird Sanctuary – we travelled through the park on Riskshaws. In Jaipur we visited yet another Fort but as it was set on a hill we travelled up the steep incline by elephant. We took part in a classic Indian cookery class and experienced the hand decoration of Mehndi. A most fascinating trip was to an open air observatory which was built in 1728. Yet more Community Enterprises included Paper-making and Pottery.
Our second week we moved to Sangam World Centre. The word Sangam means ‘coming together’. There we were joined by 30 other participants from Midlands, UK and India and followed the programme ‘Gifts for Change’. We gave ‘the gift of ourselves’ by volunteering to Projects at Sangam and also working in Community Action Projects.
Each day began at 7.00am with Yoga, swimming or climbing the water tower. This was followed with Flag and Breakfast and Patrol Time before settling into the programme for the day. The Opening was a very impressive Indian welcoming ceremony which set the scene for the rest of the week. We took part in a local cultural walk, visited markets (even bargaining for vegetables), and visited a Sari shop returning home by Indian public transport bus – quite an experience!!
We had the opportunity to get involved with Sangam’s community partners. One group spent the day with Tara Mobile Crèche – based on a construction site where the parents work and children from babies to 14 years are cared for. Members did mural painting on walls and interacted with the children doing craft, songs and games. Another group visited an old peoples home and interacted with the residents and a third group joined with workers on a recycling site, sorting clothing for resale. It was challenging working in such extreme temperatures (often 40 degrees) with no air conditioning!
One outreach that we visited and that touched all of our hearts was the Maher Project – a remarkable project for battered women and children in India founded by Sister Lucy in 1997. It has provided refuge for over 1300 women, half of whom might otherwise have been murdered, committed suicide or starved to death. It is an interfaith community that honours all religions and brings practical and spiritual healing to discarded and destitute women restoring them to dignity and security.
Members also had the opportunity to take part in a Leadership Challenge at Sangam while others ‘left their mark’ on projects at the Centre.
On our last evening the staff cooked a special Maharashtrian dinner – those who had Indian costumes dressed appropriately and we sat on the floor to enjoy a typical Indian experience. Those feeling energetic enough joined in the Indian Dancing.
We have been so privileged to visit India, experience Indian culture, relax in the peace and tranquillity of Sangam, encounter the commotion of the city, learn, grow and enjoy every day. The entire experience was exciting, amazing, confusing, wonderful, tiring, inspiring and so much more – all at the same time!