Amritsar 3/2/20-3/3/20

By Abigail DeWeese 

After our homestay families wished us well, we headed off to Amritsar, the capital of Sikhism and one of India’s holiest cities. During our time there, we met up with Professor Baljinder Singh, who showed us Amritsar’s many treasures and provided insightful mini lectures about what we were seeing. Our hotel was in the center of a bustling shopping area and just a stone’s throw away from the Golden Temple. 

Our first day, we explored a nearby marketplace and could see the tops of the Temple from the street. Each side of the road was packed with small, vibrant stores selling a variety of things ranging from beautiful scarves, shoes, keychains, to delicious snacks, such as kulfi (traditional Indian ice cream). 

After thoroughly exploring the market and resisting the temptation to spend all of our rupees, we stopped off at Brother’s Dhaba, a renowned restaurant that makes traditional Punjabi food. Many of us also learned a very valuable lesson: if there is something that looks like a green bean, do not eat it. It is actually a very cleverly disguised chili that will make it seem as though you are breathing fire. Next up, we traveled to see the Wagah Border ceremony, which is an event that is meant to symbolize the cooperative relationship between India and Pakistan. It was fascinating to see how the spectators from each side reacted to the festivities. It almost felt like a sporting event, with two sides cheering on their soldiers and seeing who could make the most noise. Each grouping of soldiers has a perfectly choreographed routine involving theatrical hand motions and shouts in a dramatic show of rivalry. 

The following morning, we set off with the Professor to the Partition Museum to learn about one of the most divisive times in Indian history. I could go on for days about all that we learned there, but I recommend you read the Partition blog entry for a thorough run down. Afterwards, Professor Singh gave us a lecture on the Fundamentals of Sikhism to orient us to the various religious and cultural practices we would come across on our trip. Fun fact: “thank you” establishes a bond or relationship between two people and is seen as a demonstration of humility. Also “Sikh” means “disciple” 🙂 

Finally, we made it to the Golden Temple. It may not be one of the seven wonders of the world, but it really should be, this building is simply breathtaking. After chatting with the director of tourism at the temple, we made our way through an intricately decorated stone arch and there was the temple resting on the surface of the water, glinting in the afternoon sun. 

We were guided through langar hall, a large soup kitchen, where over 100,000 people are served daily. A majority of this work is completely volunteer based, which aligns with one of the fundamental principles of Sikhism: service to society. The pots used to make all of this food are roughly the size of a hot tub. Some of us even got to be involved in making some chapati (flatbread).

The inside of the Golden Temple is just as magnificent as the outside. It has 3 levels: the main one has the holy text, Guru Grandh Sahib, where visitors go to make their donations and clamor for a space to pray, the second overlooks the first floor and more places for people to worship, and the roof has a spectacular view of the entire area surrounding the temple. Visitors come from all over the world to visit the capital of Sikhism. The entire Guru Grandh Sahib can be sung and the live recordings are piped throughout the surrounding building. Overall, it was an unforgettable experience full of religious and cultural insights that left an everlasting impact 🙂


A Day in Amritsar

By Nick Jacobs 

Our day started bright and early as we left the Colonels retreat at 5am. For the first time while in India, traffic was not an issue and we quickly arrived at the airport. We ate breakfast and quickly moved to the gate, before hearing the announcement that it changed. Our flight was very pleasant and quick. 

Professor Singh met us in the hotel in Amritsar and we set out to explore a partition museum, walking distance from the hotel. However, after arriving we found out the museum was closed and wandered the streets for an hour or so before we met up again. Many of the stores were selling similar clothing or trinkets so Stan and I settled for ice cream. 

The rest of the day consisted of lunch and then a trip to the Indian/Pakistan border. Although it is one of the most militarised borders in the world, every day they hold a military ceremony. These ceremonies seemed similar experiences at sporting events as the crowds cheered against one another and cool drinks, popcorn and candy are available throughout. However, there were very clear symbols of taunting and aggression present from both India and Pakistan. It was a peculiar experience because the two countries are in fierce opposition, yet the ceremony was clearly rehearsed and at one point soldiers from both sides shook hands. The juxtaposition between rivalry and coming together also made it unclear what the purpose of the ceremony is. Nevertheless, a very enjoyable experience for the whole group.

The rest of the time in Amritsar was spent at the partition museum we missed the first day, a trip to a Sikh school where Prof. Singh gave a lecture on Sikhism and a very enjoyable trip around the golden temple. 

The partition museum was confronting and very informative. It was very interesting to revisit such an impactful event in India’s history. We quickly moved to Prof. Singhs talk which was very insightful. He spoke about the fundamental aspects of Sikhism which was a perfect refresher before heading to the golden temple, the mecca for Sikhism not only in India, but the world.

We were fortunate enough to get a quick lecture and see the kitchens where mass production of food made for the Langar (free kitchen) takes place. These free kitchens can be found at any Sikh gurdwara, anywhere in the world. One of the pillars of Sikhism is service, and In an effort to give back, our group washed some dishes for a little before taking a tour of the temple itself. Some of us were lucky enough to spend time on all three levels. Either way, the experience was very enjoyable. The walk from the temple back across the walkway was very peaceful and the love was very tangible. Many in the group commented on the feeling of acceptance that was received from all, whether they were devout or just tourists, there was a very strong sense of equality. 

After leaving the temple we walked back to the hotel with Prof. Singh and said our goodbyes.


Understanding Partition

By Sammy Keller

Partition- it’s one of the most influential events in the history of the Indian Subcontinent, and something that we don’t think about very much. As part of our abroad preparation, we talked about the basics of partition. Once we got into country, we were able to speak with partition survivors, former military officers, and this week we visited the newly opened partition museum in Amritsar, in the Indian state of Punjab.

We’ll talk about the details of partition throughout this blog, but here are some of the basics. Partition was the separation of the Indian Subcontinent into two sovereign states- India and Pakistan. This partition came with the end of the British colonial rule of India, which for a long time exploited the region, the people, and continuously fired up the tensions between Hindus and Muslims- therefore, when the British were leaving, the Muslim League advocated for an independent state for Muslims, which would later become known as Pakistan.

We went to the Partition museum with Dr. Baljinder Singh, a former professor and president at Khalsa College in Amritsar. He was our guide during our time in Amritsar and he took us to the Wagah Border ceremony, a lecture at Khalsa College, and the Golden Temple.

When you walk into the museum, you come into a somewhat narrow room with beautiful floor tiles. On the left is an outline of the museum, which out lines the stages of partition. The outline goes: Why Amritsar, Punjab, Resistance, The Rise, Differences, the Prelude to Partition, Boundaries, Independence, Borders, Migration, Divisions, Separations, Remembrance (also called “The Room of Hope”).

As you enter through the glass door into the museum, you see a plaque with a summary of partition. The first paragraph reads “18 Million lives impacted.” This gives you the scope of the kind of impact that this event had on the region and the amount of lives that were impacted by the partition of 1947.

In the first gallery, you get an explanation of why they chose Amritsar for this museum, which opened not too long ago. During partition, Amritsar become a gathering point for people leaving India for Pakistan, as it was the last stops for trains leaving for Lahore, which was now part of Pakistan. Amritsar was also where the trains pulled in with refugees from “the other side”, as the plaque phrased it.

Prior to partition, Amritsar was an economic center in India, but once the impacts of partition swept through the country, Amritsar suffered heavy hits on its economy and its population, The population continued to drop for years and would not recover from partition until the 1960s, when it experienced its first population growth again. Today, Amritsar has a steady population of roughly 1,500,000 and it is considered the Sikh capital of the world, as it is home to the Golden Temple.

As you enter into the next gallery, you get a brief explanation of what life was like in Punjab, seeing some traditional clothing that is given to daughters at their wedding. But when you turn around, you see a wall covered in images, letters, and documents that explained the ways that the Indians were humiliated by the British during the colonial rule. An example that stood out to one of the students in our group included a small framed document that a bunch of signatures on it. It was a very official document, but all it did was that it allowed an Indian to have a chair when meeting with a British official. It wasn’t a chair at a conference or seat at the table of the local government- it was permission to have a chair when meeting with a British official. Otherwise, the Indian would have to sit on the floor. That’s the kind of treatment that many Indians received for a very long time before we reach the next galleries.

During the early 1900s, Britain continued its foreign policy of “divide and rule”, which included splitting up certain territories to make it easier to rule them. One of the territories that was split up was Bengal, one of the major states in the region. The goal was to split up the region for administrative purposes, but also split up Hindus and Muslims. There was a copy of the signed bill in the gallery that made the separation of Bengal official in 1905. However, the response in the state was incredibly strong, and the British eventually lost that battle when they reunified Bengal in 1911.

As we move along the timeline, or into the next gallery, we reach the most defining time period that would pave the way for partition- 1930-1945, the period of recovery from the Great Depression and World War II. During that time, the call for Indian independence became louder and louder. However, at the same time, the Muslim’s desire for an independent state became louder as well. It was first articulated in 1930 by Allama Muhammad Iqbal. The desire for a Muslim state was so strong because if India were to be one state, Muslims would make up a minority in India, ruled by Hindus. However, on a global scale, Muslims living in the Indian Subcontinent make up a large percentage of Muslims around the world. Today, India still has the second largest population of Muslims, trailing behind Indonesia and followed by Pakistan.

The 1940s marked the height and the end of World War II, which took its tool on the British economy. At the end of the war, the British Labour party came into power, which represented a dropping desire for colonial rule in India due to the financial crisis as a result of the war.

The talks about Indian independence and a solution about the land were represented by Gandhi and Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League, who are both considered the fathers of their respective nations, and strong advocates for independence from Great Britain. Unfortunately, that was about the only thing that they could agree on. Gandhi did not want partition to happen, but Jinnah’s mind was set on a separate state where Muslims could live in peace. A reporter at the time, Viceroy Wavell, summed the outcomes of the talks up as:

“Jinnah wants Pakistan first and independence afterwards, while Gandhi wants independence first with some kind of self-determination to be granted to Muslims by a provisional government that would be predominantly Hindu.”

Jinnah believed that Hindus and Muslims were two different people and it was therefore not possible for them to live peacefully as one country, and therefore the focus would shift from protecting Muslim interests to an independent statehood for them.

As we continue our journey through the timeline, we now reached 1946, which marked a very dark predictor of the events that would follow once Pakistan and India would be granted independence.

Negotiations between Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru, leader of the Congress Party, fell apart after Nehru made some remarks that upset Jinnah and Muslim community. Nehru said that the Congress party would negotiate “unfettered” by previous agreements, which sent a strong message to Muslims and other minorities that their future would be uncertain if Nehru got his way.

Jinnah called for “Direct Action”, and violence broke out immediately in a number of states and cities, such as Bengal, Punjab, Bombay, Mumbai. The political climate had been incredibly tense for months and years, and this was the final drop that caused clashes between Muslims and Hindus throughout the country. Hindus attacked Muslim communities in one place, but Muslims would retaliate in a different part in response- just like it would happen a year later once the borders were drawn and Pakistan and India would be independent.

We’ve now reached a point in the museum where the idea of partition became a reality, and Nehru, as well as the British governor to India, Mountbatten, tried to persuade Jinnah to remain as one country. It was for nothing, and Pakistan would become a country.

The Independence of India bill was introduced and passed the British parliament on July 18th, 1947. Independence for India was set for August 14/15, 1947- much sooner than many expected. Arguably, Great Britain was just trying to find a solution and get out as soon as possible.

Who would draw the borders? Mountbatten was clearly not in favor of partition, so he did not see himself fit to take on that responsibility. His solution was to find someone who was qualified and had no bias whatsoever. Therefore, his pick was Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who had never been to India before. He arrived in India on July 8th, 1947, and his report must be finished before August 14th– just about over a month to divide and entire country into two.

Much of the responsibility fell onto Radcliffe because the Border committee was evenly split on many of the border issues, making Radcliffe the tiebreaker. The report was finished on August 12th, but Mountbatten did not want to release the new borders until after Independence had been announced. Therefore, people were left in suspense and uncertainty until August 17th, which is widely seen as a huge mistake because people started moving months before the Independence bill was passed because they saw it coming and they wanted to get out as soon as possible. However, they couldn’t be sure if where they were going would even be part of the country that they were hoping to go to.

The day came, and Pakistan and India were declared independent. Fun fact: Mountbatten was required to be present in both countries in order to declare them independent, so Pakistan was declared independent on August 14th, 1947 and India on August 15th.

People started moving before partition even happened, which unfortunately means that the violence broke out way before the two countries were even established. Once partition was officially declared, it just got worse.

6.5 million Muslims fled west, from India into Pakistan, while 4.7 million Hindus and Sikhs fled east, into India. In the east, 2.7 million moved from East Pakistan into India, and 0.7 million went the other way. East Pakistan would become Bangladesh in 1971, but during Partition it was given to Pakistan. Geographically, it is not connected to the rest of Pakistan, but is surrounded by India.

The migration gallery of the museum states that 18 million people moved during partition, which is actually the highest estimate. Numbers range from 10-18 million based on your source. The gallery explains further how people moved, emphasizing the importance of railways- if you look up partition on google, you will see a lot of images of trains that are packed to the roof with people trying to flee to safety.

Money matters- especially during partition. If you were rich, you could leave by car or even by plane. If you had some money, you might be able to flee by train. If you were poor, you had to walk with a cart pulled by a horse or a donkey. The museum showed images of caravans of refugees trying to make it to their new home- wherever that would be. The largest human caravan is attributed to partition, with over 100,000 people walking into India.

The refugee gallery was very different from the rest of the museum- throughout the museum there was some traditional music, but the refugee gallery was different. There was no music, and the room was much larger than the other rooms. The noises that you heard were recordings from radios during partition or videos that showed the stories of partition survivors. Photos and drawings of refugees on the road or in camps decorated the walls, showing the fear and desperation in their faces.

This should be a whole separate blog, and people have written incredible books on this topic, but I can’t write about partition and not talked about the horrors that women faced. Women were left completely helpless during partition. Rape and sexual assault happened everywhere, India report 50,000 abducted women, Pakistan 33,000. To protect the family’s honor, fathers would kill the females in their family to ensure that they don’t fall into the hands of the enemy. Other times, the women were encouraged to commit suicide. Many would do that by jumping into the wells in their villages. Sometimes they survived because bodies had already piled up at the bottom, so they would climb up and try again- and again.

Life did not become easier for refugees once they arrived in their new homes. Refugees accounted for roughly 2% of India’s population in 1951, which was about 365,000,000 at the time. People struggled to find new homes for their families, find jobs, which made it so much harder to process that they had just lost so much.

To make things worse, both countries lost their respective founders. Gandhi was assassinated in January of 1948, and Jinnah died in August that year. Both were regarded as the fathers of their nations- their deaths were a huge loss to their countries.

The gallery of hope finished up our tour at the museum, but it doesn’t end the events of partition. Partition continues to affect these countries, for they have both lost so much for their independence. The gallery of hope pays tribute to those who lost their lives during partition, but it’s also a place of hope, as the name of the room reveals. While both countries have suffered a lot, and they have unfortunately not been able to reconcile since partition, the room reminds us that, no matter how much Indians lost during partition, they country was able to rebuild and become a strong nation.

The center of the room is decorated with a tree made from wire. The leaves are messages that were hung up. Some of them are written in Sanskrit, and some of them are in English. The messages pay tribute and give hope that one day they may live in peace. One leaf reads:

“You can divide land and property, but no one can divide the human spirit!”


A Perspective on Homestays

by Danielle Lomascolo

We spent 2 days and 3 nights with homestay families in Noida, a city right outside of Delhi.  The area of Noida where we were is known for its large retired military population. Mackenzie and I stayed with a former Colonel in the Indian Army as a member of the Infantry. After his time in the service, He and his wife had moved to Noida.

The purpose of the homestays was to enrich our cultural experience here in India. We spent the first week touring around learning more about other religions and cultural landscapes.  The homestays are what allowed us to interact more with the people of India. At our homestay, we were able to engage in conversations based on cultural differences, politics, and history. While this is what we talked about, we were also able to observe household norms. 

It was just the couple that lived in the house, but also brought in a maid or domestic help to cook and clean.  While the wife was not moving as quickly as she use to she was still in a way expected to oversee these household duties and would also help cook. The Colonel would often be doing his own thing while this was happening. The home they lived in was 3 bedrooms & 3 baths, along with study and storage. On the walls it had the Hindu god Ganeshi along with Egyptian art, and Army memorabilia. It was a charming home but had a different feeling than a typical American home.

During this experience, we spent one full day with our homestays. My day consisted of getting up early in the morning to head to the Colonel’s farm, which was located northeast of Delhi.  He had mentioned that the farm had been in the family for 170 years. The plots of land are divided among his family members, and his plot is a mango farm with about 1,000 mango trees. The mangos were just starting to flower, so we were unable to see the actual fruit, which will be harvested around June and July. In addition to the farm visit, we met two of his cousins.


A Perspective on Homestays

by John Woodall

To begin our homestay experience, our group was briefed on some proper etiquette on the bus ride to get dropped off.  Between bumps in the road, we all tried to write down proper greetings depending on if our homestay was a Sikh or Hindu, what the morning routine would consist of, and what we should call our homestay family (most were retired from the Indian Army, so colonel was a common title).  A few drop offs in, and the majority of our group was left on the side of the road with Colonel Singh and our luggage. Colonel Singh, professor Sally Stiendorf’s father-in-law, had arranged the homestays for us all. Once it was our turn, my roommate for the homestay Sean and I got in a rickshaw with Colonel Singh and he took us down a few blocks to our homestay.

“This is Colonel Arya Vir ” he told us as we hauled our luggage through the front gate of the small two-story building, tucked tightly between others in a row of similar buildings on the street.  The lights came on and we were greeted inside by our host for the next 3 nights. After a quick greeting, Colonel Singh left Sean and I inside a small living room with Colonel Arya, who we would get to know very well over the next few days.  The language barrier was definitely a challenge, even though he did speak English. We listened to some of his stories, exchanging questions with each other to try and break the ice all while enjoying some tea and crackers. Afterwards, a quick tour of the house brought us upstairs to our room.  Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say it wasn’t totally what we were used to. But we were still comfortable, and it had a great view from a rooftop patio area we had access to.

After relaxing and settling upstairs, we joined Colonel Arya for dinner.  It was served to us by a girl who was working in his house. This is a common practice and as he explained later Colonel Arya was supporting the family until they were able to get on their feet more.  Dinner consisted of a traditional cuisine. Despite having been in India for almost an entire week, the names of most dishes still escaped me. However it was full of flavor, and he was not shy to keep offering us more.  At one point in the meal he handed us a small bowl of brownish slices of some kind of fruit. As Sean and I put one of the small slices on our plate, we both gave each other nervous glances, unsure of what we were about to embark on.  He explained to us it was pickled lemon* and as they used to tell us when we were little, that was our “no thank you bite” at dinner. We politely nodded as we ate them under Colonel Arya’s stare waiting for our approval, unsure what the polite thing to do was.  Dinner continued, and the only other notable thing was a tutorial of how to properly use the cutlery according to the Colonel. As he learned in the Army (which was heavily influenced by the British), he taught us how to scoop with the fork in the left hand and the spoon in the right.  Once dinner was over, it was off to bed for a good night’s rest.

The next morning we got up early and went down for tea before breakfast.  Since we were still adjusting to the way things should be done, we didn’t realize that tea would be brought to us in our rooms instead.  So we sat at the same table we had dinner on and drank our tea accompanied with cookies. We then got ready for the day, the only difference here was our showering situation. The bathroom was a tiled floor with a drain in the corner, and two sink like faucets coming out of the wall above it a few feet off the floor.  On the wall was a hot water heater that had to be turned on, and a few buckets lay near the drain on the floor. The process involved filling a small bucket with hot water, dumping it over yourself, then repeating as many times as necessary. It was a new kind of experience.

We went down for breakfast, and soon found ourselves at the table being served a wonderful meal prepared for us.  Soon though the same bowl of pickled lemons found itself in front of Sean and I again. As we struggled with balancing being polite, we both ate a few too many of them.  After breakfast, we then were escorted to a nearby park to meet up with our group for the day’s activities.

After a long day of activities, we came back to our homestay for dinner.  After dinner, it was off to bed. The next day, Saturday, everyone would spend entirely with their homestays, doing whatever they had planned.  Colonel Arya had his daughter and daughter-in-law in town, and his wife had been sick, so unfortunately we didn’t get to spend the day with them.  However, Sean and I did spend some time with our abroad group leaders and Colonel Singh. I soon found myself back at Colonel Arya’s house, and was able to relax in our room a bit before dinner.  I had the great pleasure of having dinner with Colonel Arya, his daughter and daughter-in-law, where we discussed his grand daughters, facetimed their relatives and even became Facebook friends. His daughter shared a script for a movie she wrote, and to be honest I would totally go and see that movie.  The dinner was wonderful, and to mix in with the traditional cuisine was a box of Krispy Kreme donuts for dessert.  

The next morning was our last with them, and it was a quick breakfast before heading out.  Colonel Arya had been very gracious and kind with us, and made us feel welcomed even though we had very little in common.  It was such an amazing experience to live with a local family for even just a few days, because so much about their culture and family values was learned from it for myself and our entire group as well.  And plus now I’ll have someone to stay with when I visit India again!

*We looked up pickled lemon and it looks very different than what he served us.  We are still unsure of what we ate exactly.


A Guided Sanjay Colony Tour

By Bubba Sugarman

We finished a delicious lunch atop the roof of the Colonels Retreat, the hotel in which we were staying, and packed up our backpacks for our afternoon of exploring. Two guides in bright orange shirts with “Delhi by Locals” printed on them met us at the gates of our building. They walked us through the busy streets and up a flight of stairs to the bustling metro platform. They gave us a token for the checkpoint gates, and we boarded the metro. We traveled for about 15 minutes to the outskirts of Delhi.

We stepped out of the metro and found ourselves on a platform overlooking a small town. On one side, a dirt lot that had once been a dumping ground was home to a few stubby trees. Children, feral dogs, pigs, and cows played among the debris and tufts of plastic bags and refuse peaked out of the hard-packed light brown soil-like tufts of artificial grass. 

Walking through the crowded streets, we passed market stalls with tarpaulin roofs. Vendors offered snack foods, shoes, freshly pressed sugar can juice, and other wares. The median served as a trash dump where cows lounged, chewing their cud and sorting through the pile for bits of garbage to eat. Their watery eyes blinked in the bright sunlight, and their tails flicked off the flies that settled on their sunbaked backs.

Our guide led us down a street segregated by makeshift market stalls. Tarps stretched between branches fluttered in the weak breeze forming divisions between each seller’s goods. Large 50-gallon white plastic mesh bags lined the backs of the stalls resting on one another like a pile of overstuffed marshmallows. Men, women, and children lounged on the bags sorting colorful fabric scraps of various sizes into piles. As we walked, our feet tread on a carpet of discarded scraps, slowly collecting dirt, forgotten in the street. Our guide explained that these individuals made their livelihood by purchasing large bags of mixed scrap cloth from manufacturing factories and sorting them by material, color, and quality. They would then resell their raw materials to factories, which would turn them back into cloth. We walked down the street of cloth recyclers and turned into a small wooden door.

We stepped down four earthen steps carved into the rock and found ourselves in a dimly lit shed-like structure about 20 by 50 feet. In the center, a massive metal machine stretched the length of the building. The air inside was stifling as we walked down a narrow metal walkway. Our guide explained that his small building was a metal printing factory. The giant machine printed company logos onto sheets of aluminum that were then baked in place in the massive oven. Our guide passed around a variety of products that had been printed among them, pencil case tins, and a Baskin Robbins bottle caps. We left the small factory and stepped back into the sunshine.

Our guide explained that we were in one of the slums of India. They were called slums not because of the living conditions but because they were built on public land. As we entered the narrow streets of the slums, it was clear that the development of the area had not been planned. Narrow pathways lined by gutters of rancid water weaved in and around brick buildings. Tangles of wires ran along with overhead and terminated in plastic-covered meters outside doors. Our guide explained that the government had installed these lines to supply individuals with clean electricity and reduce the use of polluting diesel generators. Each home received 100 free units of electricity each month, and any overages were charged at a reduced rate.

As we ventured onward through the dark corridors, we passed by the residents of the slums. They sat in doorways, lounged on makeshift beds, or leaned against their buildings. Some watched videos on mobile phones, some talked to one another, others stared blankly into space. Many of the homes had converted their lower floor into a shop. Some sold snacks and toys, and some were filled with sewing machines whirring away as they made clothes, others sold hot food or tea.

As we walked, it often became dark as the leaning four-story buildings blocked out the sunlight leaving the narrow pathways in perpetual darkness. The occasional bare led bulb lit the space illuminating the muddy trash-strewn pathways below. Many of the walls of the building were painted in vibrant blues, yellows, and oranges bringing color into the perpetual twilight of the streets.

Our guide led us to an open area and showed us a local government school. He explained that this school had two sessions a day, one in the morning for the boys and the other in the afternoon for the girls. He told us that in India, to get into a college, children had to score above 95 percent on their big tests. He explained that many students were under tremendous pressure to be successful in school so that they could move out of the slums.

Our guide led us back into the heart of the slums and motioned toward a dark doorway in which we found a flight of stairs leading to the roof of a four-story brick building. We emerged on the rooftop and took in the sight below us. Square brick buildings rose from the dark alleys below. Each faced a different way, stood at a different height, and was completed to a different degree. People hung colorful laundry on wires strung between buildings. Children and dogs climbed between buildings playing among the waste that covered the roofs of the structures. A small girl around the age of eight with dark braided hair climbed up from the darkness below. Crawling on all fours, she scaled the crumbling brick walls with a bright yellow book which red SCIENCE in bold black lettering clenched between her teeth. Found a patch of clear ground on the rooftop and settled down to read.

Our guide ushered us into a small room where he asked us to remove our shoes. The walls were painted in bright murals, and the floor was covered in patterned cloth. A row of mismatched computer monitors and a bookshelf lined the walls. Our guide explained that this was an NGO he had started to help students continue their studies after school. Here they taught computer skills, art, math, and other disciplines. We talked with him for a while, and soon a group of young girls between nine and ten years old pushed open the door. They shyly introduced themselves and told us what they wanted to be when they grew up. They dreamt of being teachers, doctors, and singers and knew that this education was the path toward their dreams.


Delhi Day 2

by Bubba Sugarman

Our second morning in Delhi began with a 7:30 breakfast of scrambled eggs and Indian breads and colorful sauces. Our sleepy eyes took in the sunrise as the dim ball of light rose through the smoggy haze. Our hungry bellies consumed coffee tea and banana bread until we couldn’t eat anymore.

We walked to the Delhi Metro once more and traveled to the Jain temple we had visited before. We gathered with our guides outside the temple and listened to a lecture about the history of Old Delhi. We learned about the moguls and their contribution to the city’s as well as British rule and its impacts on development. As we listened, the traffic whirred and honked behind us, battered orange busses road past carts pulled by brahmin bulls, horns decorated in bright colors. After our history lesson, we found our rickshaw drivers from the previous day, and after exchanging pleasantries, we loaded up and were swept away in the flow of traffic. Our diver taught us Hindi in broken English throughout our trip, telling us the Hindi names for different things and places and teaching us colorful insults to hurl at his friends and fellow drivers.

We disembarked from our rickshaws in an alley and made our way onto the main street. We walked up and down, looking at and learning about the historic buildings and markets. Our guide informed us that the markets in Old Delhi had been designed by the daughter of the King. She separated the area into multiple market regions, each specializing in their own goods. Some markets sold cloth and textless while another focused on electronics and speakers.

We took our rickshaws deeper into the market and after climbing through a small entryway ordained with a hand-carved stone facade into an open space filled with rubble and marble pillars. We learned that it had once been an opulent mansion owned by the treasurer but had fallen to ruin. The building had once featured a beautiful courtyard with a central fountain surrounded by elegant marble columns. Remnants of beautifully hand-carved stone lay scattered around the site. What once stood as a prominent symbol of stature was now a collection of broken beams and scattered trash.

We soon ventured down another muddy alley and climbing four flights of dimly lit stairs, emerged onto a white rooftop. Bathed in the Noonday sun, we could see miles of flat-topped buildings stretching out in each direction. The sea of square brick buildings was only interrupted by the red spires of the Jain temple, and the golden and white limestone domes of the gurdwara and mosque. In the center third of the rooftop, a small rectangular concrete structure stood. Its front wall had been replaced with steel mesh doors, and a gentle fluttering and cooing emanated from within. A man in white robes, his wrist adorned with glittering gold and blue watch and cufflinks of marble-sized sparkling blue gems welcomed us to the rooftop. Our guide introduced him as the building’s owner and proceeded to tell us that he was a famously successful racing pigeon trainer. He proudly informed us that he was boxing legend Mike Tyson’s personal pigeon racing instructor. He opened the steel doors of his pigeon cage and showed us his personal collection of birds fawning over them like they were his children.  

We walked through the town until we came to a small street lined with a row of ornately decorated buildings. Our guide explained that this little street was inhabited by Jains, who had lived in the homes for many generations. These affluent individuals were revered as leaders of the community. Two of the homeowners welcomed us, one a jeweler and the other an antique collector. They had turned part of their homes into small shops where they sold their wares. The antique collector had a beautiful office adorned with treasures he had brought back from his travels around the world. The jeweler explained that he sold many of his pieces to President Obama. He welcomed us into his shop and showed us a beautiful collection of necklaces, earrings, and rings.

Leaving the Jain street, we made our way to lunch and feasted on some of the spiciest Indian food we had had yet. With our mouths on fire and our faces beet red, we ventured to a local clothing shop and learned about traditional Indian dress. We purchased some garments and tried on a wedding Shari before heading back into the traffic and finding our rickshaws.

They pedaled us through the streets to Old Delhi’s spice market. The bustling streets were filled with vendors carrying large sacks of spices and hand carts carrying massive loads. The vibrant yellows and reds of turmeric and peppers lined the streets piled high in white canvas bags. White sacks of various dried herbs and spices lined the streets and were piled high in the backs of shops. As we made our way through the spice market, the aroma of the spice was overpowering, stinging our noses and making our eyes water.

We found ourselves in a local shop, walls lined with small white bags of teas and spices packaged for individual sale. After a short pitch from the shop owner, we set about curating a selection to send home to loved ones. With our backpacks full, we piled back into our rickshaws and rode past monkeys, cows, and the usual traffic to the Delhi metro.

We rode the metro to Khan Market, a more upscale shopping area geared a little more towards tourists. An extended shopping excursion emptied our pockets and filled our bags with a wide assortment of trinkets and clothes for our families and the duration of our trip. As the sun began to set, we rounded up our troops and loaded up in tuk-tuks for the ride home. As we whizzed through traffic, busses and bikes whirred by, inches from our open doors. The ride flew by under the little tires of our three-wheel vehicle as we made our way toward the hotel.

We ate a lovely dinner on the rooftop of our hotel. Our heads started to nod as we ate our dessert of rice pudding, so we trundled off to bed. We fumbled with our electrical adapters, plugged our phones in, and set our alarms for an early departure. The next morning we were taking an early bus to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.


Delhi Day 1

By Bubba Sugarman

We groggily climbed the stairs from our rooms to the rooftop of our little hotel. The smells of Indian cooking and air pollution tickled our nostrils as we emerged onto the roof to find a beautiful space filled with tables and lined with shrubs and flowering plants. We ate a delicious sampling of flavorful traditional Indian cuisine consisting of potatoes, eggs, and fried bread. 

After breakfast, we assembled outside the hotel and joined a guide from When In India Tours,  a local tour company started by two Indian sisters. With our backpacks stuffed with recording equipment, we walked to the Delhi Metro. We rode the metro to Old Delhi and found ourselves outside a Jain temple. Its brightly painted red spires soared high into the smoky air. We removed our shoes and stepped into a small conference room filled with plastic lawn chairs. An old with greying hair sat behind a particle board desk. Our guide introduced him as Professor Jain, a retired Indian College professor and a devout follower of the Jain religion. He lectured us on the teachings of Jainism and led us into the open-air temple, where he explained the significance of the many idols and offerings we saw. Offerings of rice littered the temple and stuck to our feet as we traversed the maze of eloquently gilded rooms. Professor Jain explained that nonviolence was a principle teaching in Jainism as he guided us through a connected bird hospital that rehabilitated and nurtured wounded street birds.

We departed the temple and reluctantly bid farewell to Professor Jain. Braving the busy streets of Old Delhi, we weaved our way through the crowd of people to a Hindu Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. After removing our shoes and arranging them on the curb, we climbed the marble steps of the temple. Inside, devoted Hindus clad in saffron robes sat on woven carpets, their backs against the stone walls. Our guide explained the significance of the many deities we encountered as she discussed Hindu theology. Many individuals offered small clay oil lamps to the deities as they spoke or sang prayers. 

Finding our shoes once more, we mounted rickshaws and launched into traffic. Our drivers deftly maneuvered their vehicles through the busy streets as busses, cars, motorcycles, and Tuk Tuks honked and swerved around them. It was almost like an amusement park ride without the lap belt or safety grantee. Dismounting the rickshaws, we found ourselves at the foot of a set of towering red sandstone steps leading up to a mosque. Monkeys paraded across the tops of nearby shops swinging from the electrical wire and taunting one another.

We dawned shoe coverings, and the women robed themselves in loose patterned robes as we walked beneath the towering arches of the entrance. An immense red sandstone courtyard stretched before us, filled with worshipers and tourists. Three white marble domes towered above one side of the courtyard, and at each corner stood a slender minaret. In one corner of the complex, a small white marble building ordained with scrawling flowers and intricate designs stood tucked behind an iron gate. We gathered around a small window, and a Muslim man showed us a collection of religious artifacts. Among other things, he showed us pages of the Quran written by the son in law and the grandson of the prophet Mohamad as well as a single hair from the profits beard. We touched a stone indentation of the prophet’s footprint and, after a few group photos, found our way out of the mosque.

We joined our rickshaw drivers who greeted us with big smiles and broken English as they helped us into our seats. Once again, we sped through traffic and found ourselves at a local eatery. We feasted on a selection of vibrantly colored paneer and vegetable dishes paired with delicious fried breads and steamed rice. We ate and rested on the cramped top floor of the sweltering café as our jetlag tugged at our eyelids.

Soon we were swept back into our rickshaws and whisked away back toward the Jain temple. We left our rickshaw drivers with a swift farewell and made our way, ducking under tangles of electrical wires and side-stepping trash and puddles of sewage. As we ventured deeper into the network of leaning brick buildings, the streets became narrower and darker as the sunlight struggled to reach the ground. At the end of an alley, we came across a small white room. Inside, a group of laughing children ranging from four to fourteen played together, shouting and laughing joyfully. A young man in his early thirties with a bright smile and kind brown eyes welcomed us, and, after settling the children, he introduced himself. He explained that this was a home for street children who had been abandoned by their families. We played with the children, and they excitedly taught us a secret handshake that they had learned. Though our words were different, the genuine joy they expressed transcended any vocalization of thought or feeling. They asked us to share a song with them, and after a brief huddle, we dusted off a camp song, the remixed I’m a Little Teapot. With the last notes of our song reverberating in the air, the children shouted their demand for an encore. We followed two more camp songs and bid farewell to our new friends.

We stumbled through the streets once more, passing street dogs and vendors peddling their wares. Climbing a staircase, we emerged into a room full of new blue table-mounted sewing machines. Bare fluorescent bulbs lit the yellow painted room. Children played in a small room while women worked at the low tables. They shyly introduced themselves, and our guides explained that we were standing in an NGO dedicated to providing women opportunities to work outside the home. Instead of being trapped in the house, women could come to learn to sew, use the machines, and generate a menial income for themselves and their families. The women we met joyfully taught us what they had learned and showed some of our group members how to make a tote bag. We shared a cup of afternoon tea and some light snacks before departing, taking with us some bags, handfuls of snacks, and a deep respect for the selfless work of Old Delhi’s NGOs.

Once more, we traversed the bustling streets until we found the Delhi Metro. A crowded ride later, we arrived at our hotel and stumbled up the stairs to the rooftop for dinner. Our eyelids drooped as we ate a flavorful array of Indian food. We trudged off to bed and got a good night’s rest, preparing us for our next day in India.


A Travel Day

By Bubba Sugarman

We roused ourselves and finished our last bits of packing excitedly anticipating our day ahead. With some bittersweet goodbyes to those we would be leaving behind, we loaded into two white vans and embarked on our twenty two hour travel day to Delhi. We crowded into our first plane, a small regional jet, and set off for Newark New Jersey. During our four hour layover in Newark, we staked out a corner of the terminal and brandishing our half charged laptops finished our research applications, papers, and other various assignments. We had our last American meal at the airport’s selection of restaurants and boarded the plane to India. Finding our seatmates, we settled in for a thirteen-hour flight.

We arrived in Delhi to find a massive, clean, international terminal. We regrouped, had a bathroom stop, and collectively marveled over the different styles of toilets we found. We breezed through customs and collected our bags as we listened to Indian music interrupted by English and Hindi announcements crackling through the speakers above. The sun had recently set, and the air was humid and cool. We stepped out of the terminal and were met with a scene of honking traffic obscured by the night and a heavy veil of air pollution.

We boarded a bus and made our way from the airport to our hotel, The Colonels Retreat, located in the Defence Colony. Our heads nodded as we drifted in and out of sleep.  We caught glimpses of rickshaws and motorcycles as they raced by, hurdling through narrow gaps in the heavy honking traffic. We passed cows, feasting on pieces of garbage accompanied by street dogs lounging around. Bright lights and small fires lit up the streets of the neighborhoods and illuminated the storefronts. We fell into our beds and welcomed our first night’s sleep in India.


On- Campus with Nicky and Bhagwati from Nepal’s 3 Sisters Trekking

By Emily Faulkner

In our time together on campus, we spent our weekends on a variety of enriching field trips. We were a big crew of 17 students, 3 faculty and 2 lovely Nepali guests, Nicky Chetri and Bhagwati Pun. Our first trip was to the St. Louis Gurdwara on Sunday after week one, where we sat in on the prayer service and enjoyed a free, tasty lunch in the Gurdwara, experiencing firsthand the generosity that is core to Sikhism. 

Saturday after week two, we took a fun excursion with our Nepali guests, Nicky and Bhagwati, to experience with them the beauty of St. Louis from the top of the arch. Next came a plentiful all-you-can-eat buffet at Everest Cafe, a local spot run by a Nepali doctor and his wife, in which some profits from the restaurant support medical care services back in Nepal. We ventured to the Missouri History Museum afterwards to check out the exhibit on the Mighty Mississippi. 

Friday after week three we spent with kindergarteners from Principia lower school at the Hindu temple, followed by a trip to a Mosque, where we gained key insights from the charming Maysa Albarcha about all things Muslim; for example, she explained that women pray in a separate room from the men because no woman wants to worry about men staring at their behinds while they pray. The next day, we took our last group excursion for some team-building at the Halsey’s escape room in Alton (10/10 would recommend!) 

Overall, these field trips were wonderful opportunities to gain exposure to religious beliefs we would encounter while in India and Nepal, and to bond as a group with our sweet Nepali guests.