Welcome back to my adventures! SO in an effort to give a more detailed check in, instead of promising myself I’ll do three separate posts while simultaneously working on my 30+ page capstone (#death), I’m just going to do a VERY long post. There will be pictures though! So stick with me here! I’ll be breaking it down into three sections. So since I left Thailand, I had been living my life, drinking water and minding my business in Delhi; however, I was able to take three great trips during that time. One weekend we all went to Agra to see the Taj Mahal which was amazing, then we all left for a week and went to our workshops to learn about three different topics further. The choices were Kayakalp in Palampur – an Ayurvedic and Naturopathic treatment center, CRHP in Jamkhed – Comprehensive Rural Health Project, and Sangath Goa – an NGO dedicated to providing better mental health care services and resources in Goa. I chose Palampur and am now actually typing this while sitting in the treatment block of the Yoga center(‘Tis the only place with wifi in the whole treatment center) it is amazing, but we’ll get there. And lastly, something that I have been meaning to talk about but didn’t really know how to even begin to tackle, what my experience has been like as a black woman in India. But, First we’re off to AGRA!
Our program staff during orientation said “there are two types of people in the world, those who have seen the Taj and those who have not” that being said, we made it our mission to be the type of person who had SEEN the Taj. We booked a taxi and we piled into two cars one Friday after classes and rode to the Backpacker Panda Hostel in Agra. I had never stayed at a hostel before and had only read horror stories so I of course was freaking out, but the hostel was actually really nice! There were lights and a Bob Marley restauraunt…? Honestly I’m still asking myself about that one, we were all very confused, but it was dope.
There was this really cool lounge area with lights and graffiti everywhere. There were sketches, people’s names, the places they were from. It was essentially a space to leave your mark and say “Hey I was here” I’ve included a picture if you’d like to see what I wrote. My sharpie ran out on me twice so it’s in different colors and overall way uglier than what I wanted but it says my name and people will see it so hey!
By the time we had gotten to the hotel it was dark and the Taj was closed but we knew that so our plan was to wake up early Saturday morning and go see it. We got up at the literal butt crack of dawn and walked to the Taj from our hostel which was about a 15-20 minute walk it wasn’t bad at all. The sun wasn’t up so it was nice and cool and there were a bunch of people doing the same thing. If you ever do go to the Taj Mahal, I suggest you walk. Taking a rickshaw isn’t worth the money in my opinion since it’s literally down the street and walking there before the sun rises is actually very nice. We got there we were some of the very first people in line. IF YOU HAVE A STUDENT ID BRING IT WITH YOU! It will most likely get you discounted entry into many monuments and ruins in India, unfortunately that didn’t work here and it was 1000 INR, but I mean c’mon it’s the TAJ MAHAL so not too shabby in my opinion. People are pushy and lines are seperated into women and men so get someone to go and get the tickets for you because someone will need to hold the spot in line. Especially if you are traveling with a mixed gendered group! It will help in the long run, just ignore the salt shakers that say you can’t cut them -___- because that’s literally what the tour guides tell you to do. I had the pleasure of holding our spot in line and stepping in poop that morning! Great!
Here is the ticket:
So you go through the metal detectors and what people actually don’t know is that there are SEVEN buildings on the property where the Taj Mahal lives. The Taj Mahal was built as a mausoleum and is made of marble entirely. That in and of itself is wild it was comissioned in 1632 by Shah Jahan to be the final resting place of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. Which was not his only wife but was the wife he loved the most I guess. From what I heard ear hustling and walking behind the many other people and tour guides was that there were over 20,000 workers that worked on this building, and APPARENTLY he cut off the hands of all the workers and cut of the fingers of the architects (not sure about the last part BUT something was cut off for sure) so that they could not build nor draw something else ever like this structure again. A bit dark right? But BESIDES that it is absolutely gorgeous. I will say when you initially walk in and see it you are a bit underwhelmed because of the distance. I definitely was like oh, it’s much smaller than I thought it would be. However, it’s only once you’re walking up upon the building and you get right up on it when you’re like OH WOW ok this is not small. So if that happens to you, it’s normal just walk a tad closer 🙂 The marble work on this beauty is out of the world. There are intricate designs and on the inside (no pictures allowed) they actually have staff that stand there with little flashlights to shine on the designs and rotate them. I didn’t get the purpose of this at first BUT thanks to my ear hustling…
I learned that the flowers and all of the designs that make up the inside are INDIVIDUALLY cut pieces that were put together to form what we see today as those designs. Pretty cool.
All in all it was an AMAZING experience, the buildings are absolutely beautiful and the gardens that surround the Taj are breathtaking. I encourage you if you are ever lucky enough to visit to take time to really walk around and take everything in ALL of the buildings. But more than that GO EARLY! We went in the morning so it was cool, the sun rose while we were there and it wasn’t too crowded. It actually didn’t start to get hot UNTIL we left which was a blessing. Check out the pictures below:
Okay! So onto Jaipur, we again arranged through our program center our trip to Jaipur. Jaipur also known as the pink city, is home to the Amber Fort and is one of the Jewelry capitals of India. One of our professors’ grandfather was an Ayurvedic doctor back when they also taught palmistry so she learned the skill and is able to read palms. She was sweet enough to read all of our palms prior to our leaving for Jaipur so she could let us know what stones would be best for us to wear/buy. My stones were sapphire and pearl. There was a debacle with my pearl ring so I still don’t have one and I am planning on getting one in Dharmsala when I go in the next two weeks, however; I was able to get my sapphire ring and a pyrite ring which are both beautiful. The attributes of the sapphire are only absorbed when it’s worn on the left hand because that’s representative of yourself, so she told me to wear it on my left ring finger. I got the most non-wedding looking ring that I could, but I really like it and I honestly don’t mind having to answer should someone ask if it’s a wedding ring or something. We took the bus to Jaipur which wasn’t bad at all it was actually probably the best traveling experience that I have had thus far, what with the overnight trains (That is a WHOLE other story). We got there we ate dinner at the hotel the first night which was strictly VEG. The next day was much more exciting!
My buds and I, (Vanessa, Victoria, and Briona) ventured out to the Amber fort
Here are some more pictures from that morning:
Our day was only beginning though! We went to this fabulous elephant farm called elephant joy and got to play with some elephants! It was one of the best things that ever happened to me and I honestly flip through the pictures all the time because they make me SO happy. We were able to feed them for an hour to bond with them, we painted them with organic paints that were safe for their skin and then we were able to ride them. I was really skeptical about riding them because I know about the abuse that elephants can undergo, but the reason that we sought out Elephant Joy is because they actually retired their elephants from working the Amber Fort five years back and founded Elephant Joy as an alternative for people to still get the elephant experience but not at the cost of the animals happiness and health. They provided a driver who picked us up from the hotel took us to the Amber fort and then afterwards took us to the ELEPHANTS! Check it out:
It was SO much fun and I wish I could go back and experience that. Maybe I have a depth perception issue, but I did not realize how BIG elephants are! THEY are huge! I’m about 5’7 and I don’t know I like to think I’m a pretty sturdy person but THEY’RE HUGE and they’re funny and intelligent creatures. I tried hiding some of the food behind my back because the elephant I was feeding was not done and they actually eat very slowly but love to stuff as much food in their mouth as they possibly can and while I wasn’t paying attention she reached around my back with her trunk and took the food. It was very comical, definitely something I won’t forget anytime soon. After that we ended our day with a really great dinner together and then rode the bus back to Delhi the next day. All in all Jaipur was an amazing city and I thoroughly enjoyed my experience there.
I chose the workshop at Kayakalp and ultimately that is where I am now typing this blog post from as it is where I decided to do my independent study project which will be counting as my Public Health Capstone upon my return to Tulane. The topic that I chose to explore is Chronic Illness and Health and Wellness Management by Naturopathy and Yogatherapy. If you ever find your way to India and are in need of some kind of chronic health treatment come to Kayakalp! It is SO amazing here. The doctors are amazing, the center itself is housed on the base of the Himalayas and they offer some amazing treatments for Chronic Conditions. The week that I was here mostly focused on Ayurveda and Panchkarma. All of these things I’ve listed Naturopathy, Ayurveda, Panchkarma, and Yogatherapy fall under the AYUSH system of medicine which has its origins here in India from centuries ago. People commonly refer to it as alternative medicine, but it is a more natural medicinal system meant to treat and address the same issues that bio-medicine or allopathy does. With Naturopathy there is the belief that you should use nature and natural things to solve the problem and really get to the root of the issue, versus a patient having to recover from the illness first and the drug second. It is very interesting and I’m collecting some great data here, but if you’re interested in reading my final paper just hit me up, otherwise I’ll try my best to keep it to a minimum here. We learned all the basic principles of each discipline and in addition to having one lecture a day we ALSO had one demonstration. We got to experience treatments like Kati Basti, Shirodara, Accupressure and some others. It was a very informative visit and it definitely piqued my interest which is why I’m back.
Being Black In India
So… I knew we would get here, I just didn’t know how long it would take. Being in India has been wonderful for me, it has been a time of growth, self reflection, fearlessness, but also a challenge. When I first got here I had my hair like this
Now it looks more like this
I had a lot of staring and honestly I had kind of prepared for it. However, the staring here is different. Let me explain, when people in India see me they look, they look unabashedly and they continue to look until I’m out of their plane of sight. At first it really unsettled me, because you know in America you don’t just openly stare at people and if you do and they catch you, you generally look away, here…. not so much. Eventually I got used to it, but that was just the tip of the ice berg. When I got to India I kind of said to myself this is a new playing field you don’t know the rules so just go with it. I think that is the most important thing I could have said to myself. People ask me if I’m African all the time which is kind of funny to me, but this concept of African American isn’t really a thing that people go ‘oh AHA you’re African American’ they just think I’m either African or on occasion, French. One particular instance in the beginning that has stuck with me is when we were visiting a rural village, one of the teachers who taught there asked me if I was African. Our program director had of course began the day by explaining we were all from America and from various schools and were there to learn public health, but he still thought I was African. Before I could respond my instructor said: “NO, NO she is not African, she is American! She is born in America and both of her parents are born in America too!” It was a very weird experience. I’ve had many people ask me about my hair, just touch it, or make comments about it, and honestly if I was in the states, I probably would have gotten mad on more than one occasion, but here; it just takes so much energy to do that, moreover; people honestly just don’t know and they’re curious. I have never felt a sense of malicious energy behind anything that was said to me in terms of race, but rather genuine curiosity. However, upon talking to other African American Women solo travelers, I did realize that all of the traveling I have done has been in the context of being WITH other white travelers, which I do believe has greatly impacted my experience and the way I have moved through this country to a degree. I have never truly been alone, so I cannot speak to what it is like to be a solo woman traveler that is African American in India, but I do have a couple of experiences that pop out to me.
The first being when we were in Jaipur, one of the rickshaw drivers tried to compliment my hair and he said something along the lines of it is nice like sheep’s wool and then tried to touch it. I kind of dogged his hand, not because I was offende,d but I just didn’t want to be touched in that instance. Everyone started getting mad at him, and I really felt bad because I knew he was genuinely trying to pay me a compliment. I could see it from the expression on his face. Many of my fellow travelers were more outraged and upset for me than I was for myself. He apologized, and I told him it was okay and I appreciate the compliment he was trying to give. We ended up having a longer conversation about it and in the end he understood why my friends were so upset, but I did feel bad about how the situation played out.
One of the larger situations that I have had to deal with however is the pictures. This is largely why I chose to do this in this post because both in Agra and Jaipur I dealt with it at the big monuments/touristy areas. People love to take pictures here, especially with or of foreigners. People sometimes will ask, but other times they’ll simply pull out their phones and start snapping picture after picture of you. It feels really weird and invasive and sometimes being nice just doesn’t get you out of the situation. I learned the hard way taking one picture that might seem innocent enough can turn into a whole mob and it can be very overwhelming. In one instance in Jaipur we literally like ran away because people had started almost forming a line to take pictures. I honestly don’t think any of it comes from a bad place but sometimes it can feel like you’re a walking circus. There are many a time I have thought “CAN I HAVE MY FACE BACK” when people stare at me. I don’t say this to discourage people from coming to India, but to say that my experience has been without challenge would not be an accurate depiction of what I have learned and gone through while in country. India is a WONDERFUL place, and I think African American people in particular are afraid to come because of things like this, but these experiences do not define India for me. At ALL. I love my India as the funny speaker guy from Bahraich kept saying over and over. There are SO many wonderful things I have experienced in my almost three months of living here that completely overshadow those couple of experiences. More than that, anti-blackness is WORLDWIDE you’re never going to go somewhere and not be reminded of the fact that you are black, so do NOT let that stop you from globetrotting! Rachel, an amazing solo African American woman traveler I had the pleasure of talking to sums up some great tips here about these kinds of experiences and what you can do to prepare:
That’s all I have for this time. It was a long one but, if you made it this far I appreciate you 🙂