The Fridays for Future movement, started by 15 year old Swede Greta Thunberg who strikes from school for the climate every Friday, has taken the world by storm. Those who know me, know that the chance of me watching this kind of movement from the sidelines is quite low. On Friday March 15th, there was a huge worldwide strike, so I figured it was time for MUWCI to join the movement. I joined forces with a friend from Chile and a friend from Belgium, and we got the ball rolling. It created quite a stir here – 2nd years told me that in their 2 years here, this is the first time someone had organized a strike.
The night before, I put together a protest songs playlist and made myself a sign in the arts centre. I was excited and a bit nervous about how it would go.
We decided to strike in the last 3 periods of the day instead of the whole day. Most Fridays for Future demonstrations happen in front of a parliament building to pressure politicians. Since at MUWCI, we’re a bit remote and can’t get to a government building too easily, we striked at school, and decided to pressure our governments in a different way. First, we all did some research into the effects of climate change on our home countries and covered a world map in sticky notes with these effects. Then, we wrote letters to our home governments to pressure them to act on climate change. Then we had discussions of how we apply climate action to MUWCI. Of course conversations about a sustainable campus always lead to the fact that we are an international school with students fro 80 countries, who fly on planes to get here, and most go home in summer and winter breaks as well too. We really can’t pretend to be living sustainably that way.
We had a turnout of about 30-35 people total, which was great! It was very lively and people were really into it. During breaks between classes, we went around campus singing “Do it Now.” I was surprised by how the gender dynamics played out – almost only women striked. There were hardly any guys that came out to strike, yet there were many guys who expressed that they were “against” the strike for whatever. I don’t know why it was like that, but it just reaffirmed by belief that we need more women in politics.
This strike started a lot of conversations that weren’t otherwise happening. At college meeting right after the strike, we talked at length about climate change and the value (or lack thereof according to some) of community organizing. The global affairs team agreed to run the last few sessions of the year on climate change, and I’m part of the group putting these sessions together. I want to keep something going in the upcoming Fridays, so I need to figure out exactly what that will be. I’m also on a whatsapp group with Climate strike organizers from around Mumbai, which is really cool, so we are thinking planning something big in Mumbai. I’m a bit far from there, but we’ll see what happens.
The final count says that there were over 2000 strike events happening in 125 countries, and 1.6 million young people were involved. It feels really cool to have been a part of that. I see pictures of these huge worldwide strikes in cities across the world and it makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger and gets me excited that this is just the beginning.
I think I learned that whatever you do, you’ll get criticized, but that that shouldn’t stop you from doing anything. I’ve had my fair share of criticisms over the years for getting involved in political issues – the classic “sit down, you’re too young to understand, blah blah blah.” Young people striking all over are probably hearing this too, but it’s important to make our own decisions and not let these criticisms get in the way of us standing up for something we absolutely have a right to – a future.
The next global strike is planned for May 24th. That’s the last day before the 2nd years graduate and I think I will be in exams, so we’ll see if we can get something going for that one. I’m really proud of what we did here. Let’s keep it going.
Hiraman always looking like a character from “Dhoom”
Beside us on his motorbike going vroom, vroom, vroom!
Over orders of 71 wada pav,
It’s true this team had a lotta love
In the mornings we would find our way
6 AM wakeup every day
No winner, no loser
These past few days have made us a lot closer
The jeeple were the best support crew
Always finding us places to poo
Parle-G and walkie-talkies
They are great disk jockeys
The cyclists rode together as a team
Their coordination was a dream
Hours and hours under the hot sun
Man, this trip couldn’t have been more fun!
Two years ago, I spent International Women’s Day on Parliament Hill with my MP and the Minister of Status of Women, Maryam Monsef. Last year, I went to our community women’s potluck and I made a tribute band with my friends of the Raging Grannies, a group of older women activists in Peterborough. This year, I spent a week cycling from MUWCI to the coast with a group of students as well as 4 young women from the Mulshi valley who are involved with Kriya (project where we do sports, fitness and outdoor activities with local young women with the goal of women’s empowerment). I feel really lucky to have spent my March 8ths in such meaningful ways.
The idea of doing a cycling trip came when I was exploring some project week ideas after Diwali in November. Project week is a week when all first years go in groups to different places all around India to do student-led projects focused around different issues. This year, the projects included working with acid-attack victims in Agra, doing theatre in Delhi, working with an all-women rural journalism group in Chitrakoot, doing art with kids in an orphanage in Kochi, working with sex workers in Kolkata, and more. Since cycling is one of our activities we learn in Kriya, I thought it would be really nice to do a big cycling trip together to put those skills to use! The planning was a loooong process and basically has been going on since Diwali, and these past 2 months since I came back from winter break have been especially intense in terms of all the planning (I was also directing the play Mother Courage at the same time which added to the intensity – hence why I haven’t written in the blog in so long!). Renting bikes, training, planning food and accommodation, planning the itinerary, doing the risk assessment… and doing this multiple times because our route changed twice during the process of planning… it was a ton of work, a lot of stress, a few mental breakdowns… but I can now say that it was worth it.
A month ago, many people on this trip were not passing the MUWCI cycling test – both Kriya girls and MUWCI students alike. Through Saturday morning training sessions and 6 AM Wednesday morning workouts before school, everyone was able to not only pass the test but also cycle from MUWCI to the ocean over 4.5 days, going up to 40 km per day in 30 degree heat, up and down hills, sometimes on bumpy roads, and everyone stayed so strong and so positive the whole time and kept going. People really brought their fitness and cycling skills so far in the past month, which is so inspiring. Luckily everyone stayed safe even when we were on busy roads with construction and fast Indian drivers zooming past us. Aside from a few falls everyone was fine and got right back onto their bikes. I’m so relieved nothing bad happened and everyone is safe! We were told before the trip that our project week had more risks than the other 8 combined, so it’s a good thing we are all still kicking!
Along the way we camped outside people’s homes and shops that they generously opened to us. We cooked our own food (poha and chai in the morning, usually we bought some wada pav for lunch, then rice and dal for dinner) and slept in tents. We woke up at 6 every morning to get cycling before the heat of the day, and usually finished around noon. In the afternoons, we would play games, do riddles (ok I know the carabiner game, do you know the carabiner game? Cause I know the carabiner game) and reflect about our day and about empowerment in general. Everyone really got in the groove over our 4.5 days of cycling and I wished it could have gone on longer.
Maren and Tara at work with the Chai
walking back with our order of 71 wada pav!
masala chai was a staple at every breakfast
waiting for the 71 wada pav to be made
2nd night camp spot – beside a little store. The people at the stre were kind enough to make us poha in the morning – so much that we couldn’t finish!
1st night camp spot
But I have to say that it was pretty exciting to see the ocean on the last day of cycling! First we started to smell fresh fish at the markets we passed, then we started to smell that ocean breeze, and finally we saw it! Then a few more kilometres brought us to our beach camping spot in a place called Revdanda. The beach was super clean, huge, and practically empty. Unfortunately we couldn’t swim because there were people on the trip who haven’t passed the MUWCI swim test and for inclusivity we decided no one would swim, but it was beautiful and we still had lots of fun building sand castles and playing kabaddi – the Kriya girls are especially goods kabaddi players – so we still had a great time on the beach!
We then spent a day on the beach celebrating an early International Women’s Day by talking about the history of the day, our own experiences regarding gender, the biggest challenges for women in our own communities and what needs to be done. It was really wholesome and I felt like I was able to communicate really well and learn a lot from people even through language barriers.
Here are some pictures from a trust activity we did on the beach – we hhad to fit as many people as possible onto a piece of newspaper! Very fun! Brought me back to camp 🙂
A requirement from the school was that on project week we had to work with an NGO to learn best practices from them. There weren’t a whole lot of NGOs working around empowerment in the Alibaug area where we finished our cycling trip, so we ended up working a few days with an NGO called Yuva Parivartan which works with young people who are high school or college dropouts and teach then skills like mechanics, tailoring, typing, accounting, etc so that they can make a living. The people they worked with seemed to mostly be in their 20’s. On the first day with them we led some discussions between us and the people they work with which was really nice. The next day we went to a park and we led a Kriya-style fitness session for them. The 4 Kriya girls led that and did an amazing job even though the people from Yuva Parivartan were not very engaged and were being quite disrespectful. We also did a beach cleanup with the NGO, but we had to get a bit creative cause when we got the the beach, there was no beach at all because it was high tide! Whoops! We walked along the shore for a bit then found a place that had lots of trash so we cleaned up there, but still the people from the NGO weren’t very interested so that was pretty disappointing. But what was encouraging is that at our last lunch we were each saying our favourite moment from the trip, many of the Kriya girls said that leading the fitness session was still their favourite part.
co-Canadian Terra is looking worried!
Monali just livin life
Last night, we had a teary goodbye when we got back to campus and the Kriya girls had to go home. This past week, I was so impressed at how people stepped up and took leadership in different ways. Although I was one of the main planners, everyone was a leader and took so much ownership and pride in the project which was so incredible. I’m really proud of myself and of everyone else. It was a really special trip. Really special. It’s hard to believe that it actually happened and that everyone is safe and happy. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this. Highlight of MUWCI so far. This is why I came here.
It’s been almost 4 whole months at MUWCI, and late Thursday night, I’ll be boarding a plane in Mumbai and coming home for the winter break. I am pretty hecking excited to come home, relax, see my family and friends, and do winter things like skiing and hockey so that I can send pictures to all my friends who have never seen snow before! Being away from home for a long time makes you realize how much you love your home and what it means to you.
As much as I am very very excited, I am also aware that there might be challenges with coming home too. Here, I am constantly around people – you can never be alone at MUWCI. That might be different at home. I’m excited to tell people about what I’ve been doing and talk about my experiences, but at the same time, I am dreading the question “So how’s India?”. I just really don’t know how to answer that in a brief way! I think the cold may be a bit of a shocker too – although it is the winter here, and at night it gets a little chilly, it’s nothing like Ontario winters of course!
The past few weeks have been incredibly fun and exhausting, and it kind of feels like we are trying to cram as much as we possibly can into very little time. It’s been like a sprint to the finish, which is in 2 days. One thing that has been making MUWCI life even more busy than usual was MUWCIlympics – all the wadas (residences) compete against each other in tons of sports like ultimate frisbee, soccer, volleyball, athletics, etc, as well as Indian games I hadn’t played before like Kabaddi (which is like rugby without the ball – very fun, very rough, I loved it), Lagori, and Kho-kho. I represented my wada in almost all the sports, so it was a busy time! Wada 5 (where I live) put in a lot of hard work and had loads of fun. This evening, we wrapped up MUWCIlympics with the Wada Dance event – each wada had to put together a dance incorporating as many international dance styles as possible. Watching these and dancing outside under the stars was a great way to end off the term. We did Latinoamerican, Russian, Mauritian, and of course Bollywood!
On top of MUWCIlympics, we’ve got to juggle IB academic workloads, extracurricular commitments, sleep, etc. I’ve been spending a chunk of my time lately planning a project week for Kriya next March – stay tuned! but this has been exhausting. But somehow, I still manage to spend time with friends and taking care of myself.
Today, I went down to the river to scout out a kayaking entrance, and some friends and I just played in the water (which is a perfect temperature by the way) and we were so so so happy. We couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces. Tomorrow, it’s an early morning Kriya meeting (7 am is the only free time in our schedules haha), full day of classes, 2-paper math exam right after classes, an end of term dinner, then I guess I should start packing! Cause at 4 pm on Thursday, I’m gonna be hugging my friends goodbye (for 3 weeks) and getting on a bus to Mumbai airport.
If you’re back home, know that I am very very excited to see you 🙂
nothing better than a Mulshi sunset
year end concert: Anna Tanvir and Maninder Singh playing folk songs from around the world on guitar and celtic harp
Getting 3 days off school last week was a cause for much excitement around here. Not only was it a break from classes and a chance to get off-campus for a bit, but Diwali is the biggest celebration of the year in India! It’s a very festive season, and also knows as the festival of lights, and you can probably imagine how excited I was about celebrating it for the first time. Many Indian students go home to their families for Diwali, and I was lucky enough to be invited by my friend Aditi to Bangalore to spend Diwali with her and her mom!
What does Diwali come from? What does it mean and what are we really celebrating? That depends on who you ask. Some students did a presentation for us in the last college meeting and told many different stories of the origin of the festival. People celebrate Diwali for very different reasons depending on the region they live (south, north, west) and their religion (Hindu, Sikh, Jain). Aditi’s mom is Punjabi, so for her, Diwali is the day King Rama returned to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana in Sri Lanka. The town of Ayodhya lit a bunch of candles to celebrate his return, and this tradition carries on, hence why the holiday is called the Festival of Lights!
Tuesday after school, you could literally feel the buzz – everyone was so excited for the break. Some were headed home and were gonna see their families and friends, some (like me) were about to celebrate Diwali for the first time with an Indian family, some were headed to Goa to unwind on the beach beside the ocean, and some were excited to stay on campus, sleep and chill out without the stress of school. We flew to Bangalore that night with some others going to Bangalore, arrived at midnight, and Aditi’s mom Asha picked us up. and brought us back to their home on the 4th floor of a lovely apartment complex. It was me, Aditi and Lena from Germany staying there.
Being in a home with a family away from campus was just what I needed. Campus can get really intense and stressful, so getting away and talking to non-muwci people about non-muwci topics was refreshing. We got to sleep as late as we wanted, then Auntie (Aditi’s mom) and their adorable nanny Amma would cook us delicious parathas and everything was so relaxed. I went grocery shopping with Auntie that day to get juice and Diwali sweets, and that was just really fun to do these regular things that I did at home but haven’t done much here because my routine has completely changed. While we were getting groceries, Aditi and Lena were setting up the lights on the balcony. The rest of the day was spent going to Aditi’s friends and neighbours places in the apartment, and giving them sweets as Diwali gifts. Every home would invite us in and offer us bucket tons of food! I was so full, but it was so yummy and they were all so eager for the Canadian and German girls to try their Indian candies! Aditi has really nice friends in her building, and it seems like a really nice community.
Anushka, another muwci student who lives in the same house as me at school, lives super close to Aditi in Bangalore (a 10 minute walk) and she was hosting Lamia from Bangladesh, Pipa from Portugal and Seemole from South Africa. The four of them joined us that evening for dinner. Before dinner we did a Pooja (prayer) at the little temple that is a staple in every Hindu family’s home. Aditi and Auntie said the prayers, from memory and from reading a book, but I couldn’t read the script it is written in. Then, we lit diyas (oil candles made of clay) and placed them in every room of the house as well as outside the door to welcome in Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. By this time it was dark, and looking outside was incredible with all the colourful lights. Its like Christmas lights, but more colourful and flashy and fun. Dinner was a fabulous array of Kashmiri dum Aloo (marinated potatoes), dal, paneer curry and rasgulla for desert. I ate such great food that my standards were raised and now I understand why the caf food doesn’t cut it for a lot of the Indian students.
This celebration is definitely not silent – people burst lots of firecrackers outside for hours. We could hardly hear each other while eating because it sounded like gunshots outside. We went out to see check it out, and some of the crackers are pretty cool looking, but most were actually just loud and didn’t look cool. We could also see fireworks in the distance. Diwali firecrackers create a lot of noise pollution as well as injuries (Anushka got a burst cracker to the foot a few nights later, I wasn’t there to witness), so the Indian government has put regulations on when you can burst them: between 8 and 10 pm on the days of Diwali. However, it really didn’t sound to me like these regulations are being followed!
Diwali seems like such a nice, wholesome holiday. It felt like Christmas in a lot of ways: stringing up lights, lighting candles, eating a special meal together, dressing up, visiting friends and family, and getting a holiday from school. However, Diwali is not really a gift giving holiday, so it felt much less consumer-oriented which is refreshing. Yes, many people buy a new outfit to wear, so clothing, firecracker and candy businesses take advantage of the holiday, but to me at least it felt much less commercialized. I’m so happy I had the privilege to spend my first Diwali with Aditi and her mom. I found it to be a beautiful, fun tradition.
Lena, Lamia, Seemole, Aditi, Pipa, and me
Some people REALLY go to town on decorating the hallways of the building!
This is called Rangoli – fancy designs done on the floor out of colourful powders.
I don’t think this picture even does justice to show how lit up the balconies were
The rest of our 4 days in Bangalore were spent with the group who were staying at Anushka’s house and we explored the city. Here are a few highlights:
Eating lunch at a classic South Indian restaurant called Mavalli Tiffin Room, trying all the dishes and eating the paan at the end without spitting it out!
Walking around Commercial Street, a famous street full of street clothes, jewelry, and fancy stores with beautiful Indian clothes that were fun to look at
Doing an escape room – we weren’t very good at it but they felt bad for us so they gave us extra time to solve our way out!
Playing some games that really reminded me of home: Sorry and Onze! Anushka has Sorry, and I taught Onze to Lena and Aditi. Those are claassic Douglas family games, so I was super happy to play them after 3 months!
seeing the Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace – built in 1791. The Tipu Sultan had an incredible throne covered in golden tiger heads, but he vowed that he wouldn’t sit in it until the British were chased out of his land. He fought the British in 4 wars, the first 2 of which he won, but his army lost the last 2 and he died a martyr at the age of 49. He never sat on his throne.
Blossom’s Book Store. Lot’s of people had told me that we had to check it out, and WOW. It’s a massive 3-story bookstore with thousands and thousands of new and used books. It’s not really organized very carefully, so you just look through piles and piles and boxes of books as if you’re digging for gold. I felt like a kid in a candy store. There’s every kind of book you can imagine. I got a couple by Indian authors, which I’m really excited about reading!
The Gandhi Bazaar was all ready to sell Diwali decorations
Pipa exploring the Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace
My time in Bangalore was exactly the kind of break I needed from the intensity on campus. We fit in a lot of different things – some culture, some history, some relaxing, some food, some shopping, some fun… but I think the best part was being in a home with a family and reminding myself what that’s like. In less than a month, I’ll be in my home with my family for winter break. I’m pretty excited for that, but I know that the next 4 weeks will be busy and that there is a lot to look forward to!
At MUWCI, everyone is involved in what we call “service trivenis” which are essentially student-run projects or programs meant to connect with people who live in the surrounding communities and use the skills we have to give back to them. I’m part of a project called Kriya which is about empowering young women of my age from a nearby village through outdoor activities and sports. Every Wednesday, a group of 20 or 30 girls from Paud village come to campus and we do fitness with them, teach them to swim (soon we’re going to start cycling too) and reflect on what it means to be empowered while hanging out and eating bananas. Fitness, swimming and cycling are things that these girls don’t really have the opportunity to do in their everyday lives, but they are so important in order to stay healthy and gain confidence. We all have the Mula river practically in our backyard, but none of them have ever learned to swim, mostly because of their gender. They are the nicest, most fun group of girls you’ll ever meet and are so enthusiastic to jump right in with a smile on their face and I love how we can bond with them even though we don’t speak the same language. We have a few members of the MUWCI Kriya team who are from this area and speak Marathi, so that helps a lot.
I love Kriya sessions so much and I’m so glad I get to be a part of this project because I get to combine 2 things I’m very passionate about: women’s empowerment and being active in the outdoors! It is one of the reasons I wanted to come to MUWCI (I read about it on a blog) and I’m able to be part of the team. I have had so many opportunities to challenge myself in the outdoors and I think I’ve gained so many skills from that, so it’s really cool to be able to pass that on!
This past weekend, we spent 2 days painting a primary school together with the Kriya girls and camping out overnight on a teacher’s farm in the area. I was on the planning team for this, so it was a lot of work on the lead up to it, but that much more rewarding to make it happening. The teachers at the Chhale school had approached Lenja, who is a second year on the Kriya team, about having 2 classrooms in need or painting, so she had the great idea of doing it with the Kriya girls and making a fun trip out of it. We left campus after school on Friday in some jeeps with lots of paint and sandpaper, met the girls at the school, and got to work. There was a lot of prep to do to clean the walls cause there were relics of old posters on the walls that wouldn’t come off, lots of layers of chipping paint, etc. We all sandpapered, washed and painted white onto the walls until dark, and it was hard work!
Tejashree takes a rest… lots of MUWCI love 🙂
Finally, we crawled into some jeeps and went to Ashwin’s farm, where we set up some tents, made a fire, and ate some nice rice, dal and chapati. It was so fun to be able to just chill with the girls from Paud and hang out. We had so much fun that evening, and my ukulele was a hit! Those of you who know, you know what song I played!
We slept squished into tents, then the next morning we woke up, packed up, had breakfast and walked the 3 kms from the farm to Chhale along small roads. It was so nice to see the little villages wake up as the sun rose. The area I live in is so beautiful, and usually I just see everything from the top of the hill. Being in the valley in the early morning was refreshing.
We painted the school for hours, stopping only for a quick lunch of biryani and chapati that some people in the village prepared for us, which we ate with our hands and got back to work painting all together. When we have our Wednesday sessions on campus, the MUWCI students are on our home turf while the Kriya girls are not, so when we were all at the Chhale school, it was a neutral space for all of us and the dynamics shifted in a really nice way. Instead of us teaching them, it was everyone working together.
The first day of painting was mostly sandpapering and whitewashing the walls. The second day, we got to fun part of painting fun designs that the Chhale teachers wanted to use as resources, like drawings to teach body parts, colours , shapes, etc in Marathi and in English.
This was our first big Kriya trip of the year, but there are more to come… big plans in the making! I gained a lot from this experience, and I hope that the Chhale students like the new decor of their classrooms!
Last week, all the first years packed our bags and set off on trips on trips all over India for Experience India Week. I was in the group going to Rajasthan (northwest India), which is the largest state in the country. I was in a group with 14 other first-years, 2 second-year coordinators, and 3 faculty members. This was my first time traveling around India and I had an incredible, eye-opening week that makes me want to explore way more. I don’t know if it’s possible to capture this whole experience in a simple blog post, but I did my best!
Travelling by Train
Our journey north to the Land of Kings started with a 5-hour bus ride to a Mumbai train station, where our 17-hour train journey began. Trains are a very common and convenient way for people to get around from city to city here, and because of the sheer size of the population here, the Indian Rail network is very impressive. Here are a few facts (from scoopwhoop.com):
The full track length of Indian Railways can circle the equator one-and-a-half times
The total distance covered by Indian Railways daily equals three and a half times the distance to the moon
Indian Railways has 1.6 million employees and carries over 25 million passengers every day
The train was so comfy and fun! The seats fold out into triple-decker bunk beds and I had a wonderful sleep up on the top. I was expecting a sleepless night in an uncomfortable seat, but I was very pleasantly surprised. People keep walking through the aisle selling chai (chai chai chai chai chai), water (paani paani paani paani paani) or food (khaana khaana khaana khaana khaana) for very cheap. The further north we went, the drier and drier our surroundings because. We even started to see camels walking around outside! Using the train bathrooms was mostly fine… just wouldn’t want to go for a walk along the tracks!
One thing that really upset me was that all the plastic waste created on the train just gets thrown out the door because there is no other way to deal with the garbage. I noticed this on the first train ride to Jodhpur, and this shocked me into being super conscious of avoiding plastics as much as I could. Making a mess of my own country is bad enough, but making a mess of plastics in a place that is not my own is really not something I want to do.
Our train car was air-conditioned and had fold-out beds, but I couldn’t help but notice that some train cars say “AC class” and some say “second class” and just have open windows with no AC. A part of me wants to travel in the non-ac car next time to feel what it’s like to travel as simply and as cheaply as possible here. But I wouldn’t want to do that alone – the stares we got from some other travelers were quite unnerving, and I wouldn’t want to be in that position alone.
I am not super Bollywood-educated yet (my friend Tara is working hard to change that), but from what I have seen, trains seem to be quite a motif in those films. Jab We Met and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani are a couple I am referring to. But maybe I shouldn’t draw conclusions from watching 2 movies!
Eliis feels pretty happy on her top bunk!
train ride views
Jodhpur is a city of about 1 million in the middle of the desert. Our time there started with a fun fast-and-furious rickshaw ride to the hostel (I hope rickshaw rides never cease to be fun) and a momos run in the evening. I ate momos for the first time in Nepal 3 years ago, and I hadn’t had good ones since then, so it was a great way to celebrate the halfway point of this term – 2 months in, and two months til I come home for winter break.
Because of its climate, Jodhpur is called India’s sun city, and I certainly felt that sun beating down on me as we walked up to the Taj Umaid Bhawan, which is a huuuge palace built in the 1930’s (last palace built before independance) and now functions as a 5-star hotel and a residence for the formerly-royal family of Jodhpur. It was actually commissioned to be built during a famine to create work for people and give them an income. 35 degree heat would be difficult for me to manage even if I didn’t have to wear long clothes, but in order to be culturally appropriate, we have to wear pants in that kind of heat.
Next was the Mehrangarh fort on top of a hill. Unlike the Taj Umaid Bhawan, this fort is 500 years old! It was quite packed with other visitors as well as pigeons who decided to make the fort home. We got a great view of the Sun City and could even see the Taj Umaid Bhawan across the haze of the city.
Merangarh fort from across the city
Jodhpur is also called the Blue City. Because of the extreme heat and sun exposure, people paint their homes blue to reflect the light and keep their homes cool.
Seeing cows on the streets of Indian cities is normal for me by now. Cows are sacred in Hinduism, so drivers actually stop when cows cross the street, unlike when people cross the street. But before going to Jodhpur, I had never seen pigs… goats… CAMELS… sitting on the side of the roads in the middle of a city of 1 million! And keep in mind, roads here are VERY busy places, where traffic laws exist in theory but not in practice, and rickshaws, buses, cars, and motorbikes are all trying to move around a honking at each other. Now add full-grown 2-humped CAMELS into the mix… India just blows my mind. This place surprises me everyday.
This may sound surprising, but I had McDonald’s for lunch that day, and had a McSpicy Paneer Burger! It was so yum! Best McDonald’s experience of my life! Canadian fast food needs to step up their game, especially when it comes to catering for vegetarians! Here, 30% of the population doesn’t eat meat, so even the McDonald’s has to cater to that. India is such a vegetarian dream.
But obviously, McDonald’s wasn’t the culinary highlight of the trip, and the next day, we took an amazing cooking class in the old city of Jodhpur. The Spice Paradise is a business run by the couple of Anil and Rekha in a tiny kitchen tucked behind a storefront on a busy street filled with street food vendors, motorbikes, cows, chickens and lots of people and noise. You walk in, and suddenly the business of the world disappears and you’re just cooking together in their cute little home. Anil started to make spices and selling them a few years ago, then after enough people who came into their shop expressed a desire to learn how to use the spices in Indian cooking, Rekha decided to start teaching cooking classes. We started by making chai (a classic drink here), and went on to make a bunch of biryani, raita, paneer curry and lassi! There was so much food and it was so delicious! The cooking class was definitely a highlight for me because we were able to chat with Rekha about her story of entrepreneurship and learn about Rajasthani culture through food. Rekha said that she would only ever use cows milk to make chai (not almond, soy milk, etc), because cows are sacred in Hinduism and when you drink their milk, you drink in the positive qualities they possess too. She gave us a recipe booklet with all the dishes we made plus some other ones, so I can’t wait to make it again. This weekend I’m going to go to Pune to grocery shop so that I can try and re-create what we made. Cause WOW!!!
come on, give it a chai!
Rekha expertly stirring the lassi
Jodhpur’s old city had a lot of charm despite being very chaotic, and it reminded me of a few different cities I traveled a few years ago:
Cuzco: random streets and alleyways, animals everywhere (cows instead of llamas), lots of shops selling the same things, historical buildings
La Paz: cement buildings built in a seemingly haphazard way, located in a desert, power cables everywhere
Neriah, Alida and Zasal in the blue city
Jain Temple and the Thar Desert
Jodhpur is in the middle of a desert, so I’m really glad we were able to get out of the city for one afternoon and see what rural Rajasthan looks like. We took a bus out to a place called Osian and visited a Jain temple, and I was absolutely blown away. Jainism is an ancient Indian religion that started forming about 300 BCE. Although now Jains account for less than 1% of India’s population, they built a lot of temples over the centuries that still stand, and I feel so privileged to have had visited one. This temple is completely carved out of sandstone and is 1000 years old. Each wall and pillar is so intricately carved and I could have stayed for hours just looking at all the tiny carvings and imagining what stories they tell. I swear I had a religious experience in there. Just knowing that people stood in the place I was standing and looked at the same exact carvings 1000 years ago. That temple must hold so many stories. It has seen the world change so much. The world’s population was 300 million when it was built. I find that just so wild and surreal and I’ve never felt like that in any other space of worship before.
Jainism is a total nonviolent religion, even more so than Hinduism. Jain people live in a way to completely minimize their use of earth’s resources by eating vegetarian, traveling by foot, and some monks cover their mouths with a mask to protect microorganisms. It’s a very peaceful religion, and I certainly felt that peace in their beautiful temple. One of my favourite music artists is actually called Jain, and after learning more about the religion, I see some connections between Jainism and her music. She even has a song called “So Peaceful.” It all fits.
So many stories are held in this temple, and the closer you look, the more you see.
Interesting sign outside the temple… all of the girls just looked at each other, and walked in without saying anything.
We then went further into the desert, where we got onto camels and rode off into the dunes. Camels are very wobbly creatures, and when you see them up close, you realize how absolutely massive they are. It was quite a fun, wobbly ride on our camel who was named Modi (which is also the name of the Indian PM… suspicious?). At one point, we turned around and saw the red fiery sun set behind the desert horizon in silence. It was a really special moment. At first, I thought camel-riding was just a touristy gimmick and was a bit skeptical about it, but then I started seeing people riding camels for transportation all the time when I looked out of train and bus windows. Its an important part of Rajasthani culture, so I’m really glad we got to experience that.
We ended the camel ride at a place where we watched a traditional music and dance show with incredibly talented performers. The woman who was dancing would spin and jump around so much then go sit down, breastfeed her baby, then get back up and keep dancing. That was so impressive. Then we were served a delicious meal before heading back to Jodhpur on the bus with a driver who LOVED honking his horn at 10 pm on rural roads 🙂
A 6-hour train ride brought us to Jaipur, the capital and largest city of Rajasthan. The rickshaw ride to the hostel was SO FUNNY and I will tell you why. Usually rickshaw drivers don’t talk to us and even turn up the music so they don’t need to hear us talking. Fair enough. Anyways, for some reason the driver’s friend was in the from with him and they were so much fun! It was definitely very dangerous cause they weren’t watching the road very much but they were friends with all the other rickshaw drivers in town and had us yell out stuff at their friends as they raced them through the streets. Here are a few memorable quotes from them:
(referring to race) “We’re all the same, you’re just full of white chocolate, and I am full of brown chocolate”
“In India, we don’t worship Hitler. We worship… Bob Marley.”
The next morning, visited Hawal Mahal, the Wind Palace of Jaipur. This palace is over 200 years old, and it’s called the Wind palace because it is built in a way to channel the breeze in a certain way to keep the palace cool in the summer. There are special windows with lots of tiny holes (sort of like a honey comb) made for the royal women to be able to watch the street festivities without being seen by the public.
peeking out of one of the lady windows
The city palace of Jaipur was next, then we went to the bazaar in the afternoon. We would all try our best to bargain and laugh about how they would give us completely different starting prices based on whether or not they though we were Indian! It felt good to be able to speak some basic Hindi with the shopkeepers. Bhaya, yeh kitne kya hai? Nahin. 200 rupees? Acha. Dhanyavaad. I told one vendor that I live near Pune when he asked me where I was from (Main Pune se hoon), and he said he would give me “cheap Indian price.” I managed to bargain him down to a good price and bought the skirt and was quite happy with my purchase, until I realized why he was so willing to sell it to me for so cheap – it had a bunch of holes in it! Anyways, I sewed it all up so we’re all good. I’ve encountered much pushier street vendors in other places, but I just find it so funny when people try to sell me earrings over and over – Bhaya, no thank you, I told you, my ears aren’t pierces!
In the evenings in Jaipur, we had fun dancing in the hostel’s courtyard. It started with Toshaani teaching us some of the Navratri dances that are done in concentric circles during the annual Navratri festival. We danced to Indian pop music, the Alida started to teach us how to dance if we were in a club in Nairobi Kenya, and we jammed to African pop too. That was really fun and a great way to bond with the people on the trip.
Bundi was a 5 hour bus ride from Jaipur, and we took a public, no-frills type bus to get there. It felt good to feel like an equal to everyone around us – no AC train car, nothing separating us. It felt like a very “experience India” ride – very crowded, lots and lots of honking all the time, very hot and stopping at the stops for extremely long periods of time for no apparent reason. It was honestly exhilarating. The driver was in quite some rush and had no fear at all. Either his brakes didn’t work well or he was in a big rush… probably both. He would just drive straight at another vehicle and honk at it profusely then swerve around it. There were a few times I was sure we were going to hit another transport or a cow, but miraculously, we did not. I was filled with adrenaline the whole time. One woman sitting in front of me seemed very feeble and needed help to walk, and it turns out that she was returning to her village after being in the hospital for weeks with Dengue fever. I noticed that some people were gently helped onto the bus by the conductor, and some were basically shoved on, even elderly people. Some people were allowed to put their feet on a certain foot rest, and some were not. Ujwala, one of our faculty on the trip, explained to me that this is all connected to the caste system. That’s something I need to look out for more and learn about. I feel like so much of Indian culture is hidden if you don’t have local people to explain it to you.
Bundi was described to me as a “small village,” but turns out it’s the same size as Peterborough! This town really caught my imagination, and I wish we could have spent more time there. It’s nestled in between the hills and the streets are all narrow and cute with lots of hidden alleyways and staircases going up to apartments, all with lots of baby pigs walking around! It kind of reminded me of a town called Malinalco in Mexico that I visited with my friend Francesca a few summers ago. It had such a quaint feel to it. There is a decaying fort on the hill called the Taragarh fort (built in the 1300’s), and exploring that felt pretty surreal. I could tell that at one point, it must have been luxurious, based on the remnants of paintings. There was definitely lots of wealth if they used so much blue paint in their murals, because blue dye was the most expensive colour. Now, it’s quite run down and has been taken over by the resident monkeys and bats. It had almost a post-apocalyptic aura to it. I can’t really put my finger on it.
Taragarh fort seen from our hostel
Glimpse of another era
Bundi in the golden light
the residents of Taragarh
The sun setting on our fabulous week-long trip
That evening was the end of Navratri, so there was a big parade through the streets right outside our hostel, and part of that parade was a bunch of camels all dressed up in colourful things! Not everyday you look out your window and see a camel standing on the street. Each parade float was pulled by a tractor and in each tractor bed were kids dressed up acting out different scenes of the Ramlila, a Hindu folk tale. Part of this ceremony involves burning of the demon Ravan, so the kids of the hostel owners made a Ravan out of cardboard, filled it with fireworks, and set it on fire right beside the street! What a sight!
The last morning, I felt like I hadn’t seen enough of Bundi to leave yet, so I woke up my friends Amuna and Zasal at 7 am and we explored. We saw a temple at the top of a hill and wanted to go climb to it, but what we though to be the path up turned out to be the opposite of a path… and we tried to brave our way through the burrs in our flipflops for a little while before turning back to the hostel so that we didn’t miss our transport. At least we tried!
We hopped in some jeeps to the next city over, Kota, and from there took the train for 19 hours all the way back to Pune. Getting back to MUWCI totally felt like home, and it was really nice to see all my friends who were on different trips and share stories.
The more I explore and learn about this country, the more I realize how little I really know and how much I want to learn. From hearing about everyone else’s adventures, I am itching to explore so many more parts of India and I have already started to make a list of everyone I want to go so that I can plan trips. Maybe I’ll go up to Mussoorie in the north near the Himalaya during summer break… if anyone wants to join, let me know! I’m serious! Chalo!
Friday night, as I hung out with some friends in a courtyard just like an average Friday night, I realized that my idea of normal has changed drastically. I was with friends from New Zealand, the US, Costa Rica, India and Portugal, and we were playing bananagrams until late into the night while eating “hide & seeks”, which are my favourite Indian cookies. If you don’t know what bananagrams is, it’s sort of like scrabble where you have to make a crossword using letter tiles as fast as you can and it gets very competitive and intense. But to make it fair, we played in our native languages – Jenna, Talia and I in English, Sebas in Spanish, Pipa in Portuguese, Ishaana and Shalabha in Hindi!
Then, Jenna played a song from the musical Hamilton, and 4 of us broke out in song and rapped through most of the first act, all from memory. This made me feel so close to home, cause that’s exactly how I spent most of my lunch hours with my friends throughout grade 11. Singing showtunes and making references to broadway musicals on the auditorium stage in the dark. The world is a small place.
Finally, Ishaana asked me to play the uke for them, so I taught them “Down by the bay”, which is a camp classic that I’ve been singing around campfires my whole life. It was such a wholesome night that made me feel so at home with the people here at muwci, even though we come from opposite sides of the world and have different languages and cultures. Without thinking about it, it seemed like a very normal, wholesome, fun Friday night. But that was way cooler than normal. I’m so amazed that that has become the new normal. Life is pretty cool here. It moves at a quick pace with schoolwork and activities and responsibilities and socializing, but it’s moments like these that remind why I came here in the first place.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone back home! Rest assured that I am busy, happy and very thankful over here on the hill in rural Maharashtra!