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Disclaimer: This story is woefully late but I figure our biggest trip yet is worth hearing about, even if belatedly.
Time: 1:50 pm
Date: Wednesday, December 29th, 2010
Place: Lower Kindergarten Classroom, Kiran Center

Scene:

A slightly frazzled Damaris is trying to teach art to a class of five and six year olds when her phone rings.

Damaris: Hi, Daniel.
Daniel: Hi Damaris.
Damaris: ..What’s up?
Daniel: I’m sorry to bother you at work but we’ve had a change of plans.
Damaris: Really? What?
Daniel: Well, we’re going to Agra tonight.
Damaris: We’re not taking the train tomorrow?
Daniel: No. We’ll have dinner at the program house and then leave around 9.
Damaris: Oh, so do we still have Hindi class? I won’t get back from work until like 5.
Daniel: Yeah, Hindi’s from 5 to 7, right? Dinner is at 8 so just pack your stuff after and come over.
Damaris: Um, ok.
Daniel: K, see you tonight. Bye.

I would probably pinpoint that conversation as both the beginning and summary of our first Long Excursion. Long Excursions are called as such because they are Princeton-sponsored trips of seven to nine days and each country is allotted two over their nine-month stay. Our first one was supposed to go a little like this:

Thursday, the 30th - overnight train from Banaras to Agra
Friday, the 31st –See Taj Mahal in Agra and leave that evening on another overnight train to Jodhpur,
Rajastan.
Saturday, the 1st - Tour Jodhpur
Sunday, the 2nd – Day train to Jaisalmer, Rajastan
Monday, the 3rd –Start camel safari
Tuesday, the 4th - Camel safari
Wednesday, the 5th – Return from camel safari and board overnight train to Delhi
Thursday, Friday, Saturday- tour Delhi, and board overnight train on Saturday back to Banaras
Sunday, the 9th – Arrive in Banaras

All in all, the trip was fantastic. As you may have guessed by now, however, everything didn’t exactly go as planned.

Trains in India, especially during the cold season, are often delayed, sometimes by 10 hours or more, and so at first I thought the change of plans was simply to get a head start on the trip. At Hindi class that evening, however, I discovered that the change was actually due to the fact that the Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays, the equivalent of Sundays for Muslims, and therefore we were leaving on Wednesday so we could arrive in Agra on Thursday to see the monument. In addition, we would no longer being taking an overnight train. Rather, we would be going by overnight taxi.

It should also probably be mentioned that taxis in India, or at least Uttar Pradesh, are not bright yellow sedans that run on a meter. They are usually unmarked vehicles of various sizes that you hire for a certain distance or time. Ours was a standard 7-seater and so we crammed our seven in (the five of us, Daniel, and Saurab, our friend and Josh’s homestay brother) and, truth be told, the ride wasn’t that bad. Thirteen hours later we arrived at our hotel in Agra. Sure, we were a little stiff and groggy but after a nice nap, hotel pressure hot shower, and some real food, we rallied, met up with Debi, another instructor, and went to see the Taj. Which was awesome. There is no way I can do one of the wonders of the world justice with any description but I will say that even the cold, rainy, and foggy weather in which I saw the tomb couldn’t mask its utter glory and brilliance.
Leaving on Wednesday gave us another day in Agra, which we spent several hours of exploring the Red Fort. While perhaps not quite as magnificent as its white marble neighbor, I thoroughly enjoyed wandering the hidden hallways and crannies of the old palace. That evening, we packed up our stuff and headed to the train station to board our train to Jodhpur, a city in the far western state of Rajasthan (near Pakistan). When we arrived at the station, our train had been eleven hours delayed. By the time we left to go back to the hotel, the delay was fourteen hours and counting and would probably cause us to miss our train in Jodhpur to Jaisalmer, another city about five hours away.
So Daniel and Debi pulled some travel plan juggling magic, we went back to the hotel for a nice New Year’s celebration on stationary ground, and headed out early the next morning to Delhi. In Delhi we planned to kill a few hours with one of Daniel’s friends and then catch a direct overnight train to Jaisalmer. Our time was fairly uneventful, save for perhaps the rickshaw ride from the train station. Katie, Daniela, and I were sharing an auto rickshaw and were a little confused when the rickshaw stopped in the middle of the highway-esque road. We figured the auto was broken or the driver was having a conversation with the auto next to us and prepared to cajole the rickshaw walla into moving when we realized the real reason we had stopped. We were at a stoplight. However, perhaps the funniest or most disturbing part was when all three of us let out a whoop of amazement and delight at what seemed like a novelty to us after only three months in Banaras. The rickshaw driver laughed at us.
The next day we arrived in Jaisalmer, a beautiful “living fort” in the Thar desert. Jaisalmer was once the fort and capital for a line of Rajastan kings and is now a functioning city in and around the walls of the old fort. The day after arriving and sightseeing around the city, we began our camel safari.
My lasting impression of camels is that they are huge and double jointed. These characteristics are fairly obvious, yes, but they become exceedingly relevant when you are on a camel that is sitting up or down. The sensation almost feels like riding a bunking bronco, save that with each buck you either become closer or further from the ground. Still, I like to think my noble steed Munhiya and I developed some kind of bond over our time together, especially when I entertained myself by trying to beem thoughts into his head. Camp on a camel safari is literally sleeping on the sand dunes with a ton of blankets in whatever nook you can find. The atmosphere is great and the stargazing is wonderful, however, the conditions do you leave you prone to waking up with the chills and fever, which I did on our second day out. There’s not much to say about that day except that Munhiya stuck by me and by the time Debbie got Saurab (who was also sick) and I back to Jaislamer to a hotel that night, I was more than a little out of it and gratefully passed out on the bed.
The next day, everyone else returned from finishing the safari and we boarded a train and set off back to Delhi. Again, not much to be said about the trip as I spent pretty much the entire 20 hour duration lying on my berth resting and powering through the audio book version of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
In Delhi, we stayed at a pleasant hotel in the Tibetan colony, which is essentially an enclosed community of Tibetan refugees. I spent much of the time resting but was roused to go to Khan Market, an epicenter for imported goods and both an intoxicating and dangerous place for those craving treats from home like chocolate syrup, avocados, and, of course, cheese. Probably far too much money was spent on unnecessary items (like $10 Tostidos) but we were infatuated. Scott, associate director for Bridge Year in Princeton joined us on the second day and that night we attended a function for meeting and getting to know Princeton alumni in Delhi and India. Finally, after running some last minute errands the next day, we arrived at the train station to catch our overnight to Banaras and found out, surprise, surprise, our train was twelve hours delayed. Back to the hotel it was and by the next morning, our train was flat out canceled. This left us in a bit of a pickle as there appeared to be no trains to Banaras in the immediate future and all of us were supposed to be back to work that week. Solution: spend another day in Delhi and get another taxi that night for the 780 kilometers back to Banaras. The day was spent visiting the Indian National Museum and learning some history about the country we’re living in. The night was spent embarking on our second 20 hour ride of the trip, via taxi. Once, such a journey would have sounded ridiculous. Now, in my opinion, all it needs is some cheese and crackers, audio books, a touch of fatigue, a dash of flexibility, and a whole bunch of creativity and positive attitude.

At 6:00 pm, on Monday, January, 10th, we arrived back home.
[post_title] => The Odyssey [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => the-odyssey [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2011-02-18 00:00:00 [post_modified_gmt] => 1970-01-01 00:00:00 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://yakyak.chandigarhsoftware.com/?p=45420 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 354 [name] => Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011 [slug] => bridge-year-india-fall-2010 [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 354 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 263 [count] => 18 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3.10015 [cat_ID] => 354 [category_count] => 18 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011 [category_nicename] => bridge-year-india-fall-2010 [category_parent] => 263 [link] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/category/princeton-bridge-year/bridge-year-india-fall-2010/ ) ) [category_links] => Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011 )

Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011

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The Odyssey

Damaris Miller,Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011

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Disclaimer: This story is woefully late but I figure our biggest trip yet is worth hearing about, even if belatedly. Time: 1:50 pm Date: Wednesday, December 29th, 2010 Place: Lower Kindergarten Classroom, Kiran Center Scene: A slightly frazzled Damaris is trying to teach art to a class of five and six year olds when her […]

Posted On

02/18/11

Author

Damaris Miller

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    [post_date] => 2011-01-27 00:00:00
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Dear BY Yak board followers,

Brief introduction...I am Debi Goldman one of the instructors on the Dragons semester programs here in Varanasi. In between my programs I moonlight with this fabulous group of students and get to go on fantastic voyages with them to ride camels and eat kababs in India's most ancient cities! I'm very lucky and grateful to be back with them for this short stint while Daniel recharges his batteries at the beach. Our goal for my time with them over the next week is to make him insanely jealous at how much fun we are having while engrossing ourselves in the rich history of our neighboring city of Lucknow.

Lucknow, about 300km from Varanasi, is the current political capital of our state of Uttar Pradesh. According to popular legend, Ramchandra of Ayodhya, the hero of the Ramayana, gifted the territory of Lucknow to his devoted brother Lakshman after he had conquered Sri Lanka and completed his term of exile in the jungle. Therefore, people say that the original name of Lucknow was Lakshmanpur, popularly known as Lakhanpur or Lachmanpur.

In the 1700's, Lucknow was taken by a new brand of Mughals (Muslim conquerors) descending from Persia. Their rulers were of the highest Shia status and carried the title of Nawab. The Nawabs ruled this rich, ancient city until the British moved their political seat of the North here in the 1800's. Although the Mughals lost control, the city retained its ancient charm and today is known for its diverse population of Muslims descending from the Middle East and Hindus from many states of India. Lucknow is sometimes referred to as the Constantinople of India. On our short visit we will tour the capital buildings, visit the ruins of the British residencies and Nawab architecture, eat some great kababs and shop for "chikan" (local embrodiered fabric). We will leave on Fri morning by bus and return on Sat night by train.

Stay tuned for yaks on our adventures to the City of Nawabs, and put in your requests for gifts now :-)

All the best,

Debi Goldman

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Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011

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Testing our luck in Lucknow!

Debi Goldman,Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011

Description

Dear BY Yak board followers, Brief introduction…I am Debi Goldman one of the instructors on the Dragons semester programs here in Varanasi. In between my programs I moonlight with this fabulous group of students and get to go on fantastic voyages with them to ride camels and eat kababs in India’s most ancient cities! I’m […]

Posted On

01/27/11

Author

Debi Goldman

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    [post_date] => 2011-01-20 00:00:00
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I am not saying that Daniela knew that we were going to have a snowy season back in New York but she did wait til this year to be away from the snow shovel. The snow has reached over 20 inches at one time. I know that I would rather be in sunny India and at the Taj Mahal sight in particular instead of looking out the window at the snowdrifts.

I know you are experiencing a wonderful year and will have many memories to share with us. We keep you in our thoughts and hope you continue to have a marvelous time. Love,

PP&GD

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Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011

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New York Snowstorms

Pop Pop & Grandma Bartalini,Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011

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I am not saying that Daniela knew that we were going to have a snowy season back in New York but she did wait til this year to be away from the snow shovel. The snow has reached over 20 inches at one time. I know that I would rather be in sunny India and […]

Posted On

01/20/11

Author

Pop Pop & Grandma Bartalini

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(The title means “After the Break” and also happens to be the name of a ridiculous Bollywood film we saw last month. I couldn’t resist.)

Our excursion was everything an excursion should be. Only in India can you see the Taj Mahal, ride camels in the desert, and go to fancy shopping centers in Delhi all in the same trip. It was a wonderful way to celebrate both the end of the year and the end of the first half of our adventure. However, this was the first time we’d been outside of Banaras for an extended period of time since we arrived, and for me it wasn’t the trip so much as the return that showed me how far we’ve come.

It was the exclamation and smile with which Agam-ji, my jewelry teacher, greeted me the morning after our return, followed by the usual, “So what do we have to do today?” I’ve loved learning silver work since my first day, but I was surprised at just how good it felt to resume working with my hands, surprised to realize how much I had missed the feeling of cool silver hard in the grip of my fingers and the satisfaction of (finally) filing something correctly and receiving a “Shabas!” from Agam-ji.

It was Barish, Ajeet and Manju’s two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, who shrieked out “Katie Aunty!” and ran to give me a kiss when I stepped through the door of Ajeet and Manju’s house/Guria’s office. I listened happily to her incessant chatter and watched her adorable impromptu dancing to the songs on my phone with new delight. I couldn’t stop picking her up to hug her all morning long.

It was the shouts and laughter of the children at Guria’s center when I arrived on my bicycle and knocked on the familiar blue gate, the chorus of “Namaste Madam-ji!” that met my ears from every side as I wheeled my bike inside, the hugs from the kids who demanded to know where I’d been and why I’d left them for so long. “You’re very happy today,” commented Anu, and I could only grin and tell her that it was because I’d missed them all so much.

It was seeing Bantu-ji waiting for us as we pulled up in the car, grasping my friend Soni’s hand outside of her family’s flower shop on my way up to the program house, grinning at Mumta-ji and enjoying the delicious welcome-back meal she made for us, hugging Lara-ji and making faces at her charming baby Ratna at breakfast the next day, and stopping by to have chai and chat with Dolly-ji.

And it was Deep, my eight-year-old host brother, coming outside on the night we got back and, after only a second’s hesitation (he does have a certain level of eight-year-old coolness to maintain, after all), running straight into my arms.

It was all of these moments, being reunited with these wonderful people, that made me realize just how much things have changed from the first day we set foot in Banaras, knowing no one and unsure of how we would like the city. We’re more than halfway through our time here, and it shows. This time, when we arrived in Banaras, it was as people who belong here. We weren’t just returning to work and cold weather and our everyday routines. We were, in a way, coming home.

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Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011

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Break ke Baad

Katie Horvath,Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011

Description

(The title means “After the Break” and also happens to be the name of a ridiculous Bollywood film we saw last month. I couldn’t resist.) Our excursion was everything an excursion should be. Only in India can you see the Taj Mahal, ride camels in the desert, and go to fancy shopping centers in Delhi […]

Posted On

01/18/11

Author

Katie Horvath

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    [post_date] => 2011-01-09 00:00:00
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"A true warrior is he alonewho possesses integrity, creativity, and patience in the face of adversity." You would think that this little piece of uplifting advice would be commercialized on the side of a coffee mug or insome sort of peaceful atmosphere like one of the ashrams that specklethelandscape of Banaras. Instead, I spotted this sign displayed prominently on one of the walls of the New Delhi Railway Stationyesterday as swells of overwhelmed tourists and disgruntledIndians surged past us toward their platforms. We were waiting along the sides of one of the main walkways, trying to figure out when and fromwhere our train to Banaras was leaving. After about45 minutes of waiting, Daniel was able to find out that our train was delayed until 5:30 the next morning. After setting up a wake up time of 4:45, we were informed later that night that the train was cancelled and that we had effectively no way of getting back to Banaras.

This wasn't the first time the Indian Railway System had attempted to foil our vacation plans: when we were all working on December 29th at our service sites, eagerly awaiting our trip that would begin on the next day, Daniel called all ofus and explained thatbecausethe thick fog had been delaying alltrains, our train from Banaras to Agra had been cancelled. Daniel, the manof manyconnections that he is, had arranged for a car to bring us that night to Agra, explaining that we would arrivethere the next morning.The changein plans didn't really matter to us; we just scrambled to finish packing by thatnight (yes, Mom, I was one of the procrastinators) and jumped into the car. A fewlate night bathroom stops and fourteen hours later, we arrived in Agra and had a very interesting day exploring the Taj Mahal and other sites that Agra has to offer.

Funnily enough, our train woes didn't stop there. On New Year's Eve, we were supposed to leave from Agra to Jodhpur on an overnight train to begin our Rajasthan leg of the trip. We bundled into auto rickshaws with all of our bags and arrived at the station. After waiting again for awhile, we figured out that our train was cancelled again. We scrambled to find some rooms at the hotel we stayed at the night before and thankfully found some rooms, but we had to leave Jodhpur out of our plans and book tickets for another train that went to Delhi so we could pick up another train that would get us to Jaisalmer in time for our camel safari. Instead of the original plan ofcelebrating New Year's Eve on a train, we moved our party to our rooms and the surrounding areas outside the hotel. Armed with silly string imported from the US by Debi, our additional group leader on the trip, we still enjoyed that holiday immensely, even if our intinerary had to be tweaked a bit.

Fast forward through our stay in Jaisalmer, the camel safari through sand dunes(which was nothing like I've ever experienced before), the subsequent train ride back to Delhi (the only train ride that we took that was originally in our plans), and the observation of the sign in the train station last night and here I sit, typing on a computer in an Internet cafe in Delhi, waiting for the car ride that Daniel arranged for us. Again, we all didn't mind the extra day in Delhi: we spent the day exploring the National Museum of India and eating delicious South Indian food. Even though, as I look back on our vacation, nothing seemed to turn out the way that we planned, it was all okay. The car ride to Agra was comfy. I didn't mind not getting to see Jodhpur; I don't think our silly string battle to ring in the New Year would have gone over well with the other passengers. Today's outing with Scott, one of the Bridge Year personnel who's visiting us, allowed us to see more of Delhi. Our car ride tonight isgoing to get us back to Banaras in time for us to still go to the Dalai Lama's teachings tomorrow, so that's awesome too. As one of my basketball coaches used to say, "It's not about the destination. It's about the journey." Now there's another saying you can put on your coffee mug.

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Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011

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That’s Just The Way It Is

Daniela Bartalini,Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011

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"A true warrior is he alonewho possesses integrity, creativity, and patience in the face of adversity." You would think that this little piece of uplifting advice would be commercialized on the side of a coffee mug or insome sort of peaceful atmosphere like one of the ashrams that specklethelandscape of Banaras. Instead, I spotted this […]

Posted On

01/9/11

Author

Daniela Bartalini

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    [post_date] => 2010-07-07 00:00:00
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Namaste Princeton Bridge Year India
A girl from the rural Himalayan village of GingiPani, greeting with a Namaste.

Namaste Princeton Bridge Year India Participants! (“Namaste,” is a Hindi greeting, which can be translated to, "recognizing the divine in you.")

We’ve already met (in your final video Skype interview), but this time I get to congratulate you on your acceptance; into the Bridge Year India program and of a journey that will undoubtedly change your life!

Again, my name is Christina, and I am so excited to have the opportunity of being able to work alongside your on-site staff, to support your group and help safely facilitate your exploration, understanding and connection to one of the most vibrant and exciting of cultures and countries of the world; India. While Daniel will be your primary on-site contact, living with you in Varanasi and offering guidance and leadership for the entirety of the 9-month program, I will be supporting the Bridge Year group, on-site in India for portions of the program (including the first weeks), and from an office in Colorado, from today through your life-long journey of transference (of your learnings and experiences in India, back to your communities at home).

Since you have each shared so much with me, it’s my turn to share a little of my story with you. I spent a fair majority of last year living in Varanasi, where I led two consecutive college-accredited semesters for Where There Be Dragons. The year was amazing; full of the dips and hills of excitement, fear, drama, growth, chaos, beauty, revelation and love that we always unearth of India's soil. India happens to be my favorite country in the world and I can never quite get it out from under my fingernails. For this reason, I'm ever happy to get right back on a plane to return again, with you, and share this journey as we, together, authentically experience this beautiful country through connecting, directly and intimately, with the communities and cultures of which it is comprised and characterized.

Our collective focus on "seva" or "service learning" holds a special place in my personal life mission and travel history. When I was about 22-years old, on an intuitive whim, I sold everything I owned, strapped on a backpack and moved abroad. No one, least of all myself, knew that first step would eventually accumulate into seven years of adventures in community service and experiential education in the developing world. Traversing some forty-something countries I found myself happily getting the dirt of six continents under my fingernails; working with children living in the squatter community in the dumpster of Guatemala, building houses for Habitat for Humanity in Fijian villages, planting trees in a reforestation effort in Coastal Ecuador, strolling the beaches of Costa Rica at midnight keeping the eggs of Leatherback turtles safe from poachers, fighting off Lantana from overtaking the native plant species of Eastern Australia, giving massages to the crippled limbs of those left at the Mother Teresa House of the Destitute in India, preparing the gardens for feeding an orphanage in the Himalayas, teaching English to refugee monks who escaped from Tibet, and most recently (July 2008) climbing over several 17,000 foot passes to deliver shoes and medications to the most remote Tibetan villages of Northern Nepal.It was over the course of these years, attending this prestigious "University of Life," that I found my path and passion in "service learning" and also in what Where There Be Dragons calls in its mission statement, "experiential education," which simply means -- using the world as our living classroom and our real experiences and interactions within it as the lesson plan. So having found my own life-driving inspiration abroad, I quickly realized that the only thing that matched my excitement in making my own reality-quaking revelations was watching, guiding, sharing and connecting the world with others -- specifically, with young, enthusiastic and inspired people like you.

I've now lead seven experiential semesters abroad including Dragon's Himalayan Studies and two semesters in North India. Each of these semesters (and more specifically, each of the students) has re-confirmed that this is exactly where I love to put my life energy. I can tell you what my favorite thing is about leading these trips without hesitation: Because of the seventy-something students I have led on these adventures, every one of them has since told me, "my experience abroad was the most influential, inspiring and life-changing experience of my life." And I'm just so thankful and excited to have the opportunity to play part in such transformative experiences.

Our trip to India, departing in August, will be my eighth. Of all the countries I've travelled, none has ever held my captivation, intrigue, respect or love like the one within which we'll be adventuring together in only a few short months. When people ask me why I love India so much, I often answer, "because it's like walking on the moon!” Saturated in such vibrant color and culture, I have yet to find a country more intense, shocking, foreign or mysterious. Had you asked me, six years ago, "What is it that calls you to India?" I could only have shrugged, having no words to describe my desire to visit a place I knew nothing about. The "call" to "go to India" is usually indefinable, based heavily on intuition and an unexplainable "urge" to experience a world that you're certain, only, will turn yours upside down. So if this is what you're feeling and just the word, "India" sparks your curiosity or makes your heart leap for unknown reasons, then you're not alone.

A whole new world is about to open up to you, and along with it, an entire spectrum of emotions and experiences. Living in India is not a totally easy or comfortable experience. There will be times when you'll be nervous, and times when you'll be thrilled, times when you might be cold, and times when you'll be melting-hot, times when you'll be in awe, and times when you'll be in disgust, times when you'll be homesick, and times when you'll forget where you came from, times when you'll be angry, and times when you'll practice compassion, times when you'll feel lonely, and times when you'll feel you're part of a new family, times when you'll be exhausted, and times when you've never felt so alive. These are all beautiful emotions for us to embrace, for ironically enough, it's rarely the memory of a comfortable couch that we treasure, but exactly those experiences that push us out of our zones of comfort and put us on cold and sharp ledges that transform our lives and perception of it. And don't worry, for a lot of our trip will be spent supporting each other through the roller coasters of experience and emotions we'll ride together. Life is experiential learning. And I want to reassure you, that unlike the formal classroom, this journey is much more about the questions (yours, mine, ours) than the answers. Of all the things on the packing list, the most important thing you can remember to bring with you on this trip is your sense of Wonder. And so, along with your headlamps, journals and hats, please remember to bring your open mind, curiosity and rheto rical questions.

I'm sure a few of you are starting to get nervous with anticipation. (Hold onto that feeling by the way, it's an essential and fleeting part of the fun.) If you have any questions of logistical (or any) nature, we (your Dragon’s staff) are all regularly online and very happy to assist and answer. My contact info is as follows:

Skype Username: christina.dragons

Email:Christina@wheretherebedragons.com

 

I'm eager and excited to meet each of you in person!

 

Christina Rivera

Bridge & Gap Year Programs Director

Where There Be Dragons

"When you step off the edge of the unknown, you will either find solid ground, or learn to fly." - Unknown

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Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011

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Namaste Princeton Bridge Year India – Welcome & Introduction Letter

Christina Rivera,Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011

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A girl from the rural Himalayan village of GingiPani, greeting with a Namaste. Namaste Princeton Bridge Year India Participants! (“Namaste,” is a Hindi greeting, which can be translated to, “recognizing the divine in you.”) We’ve already met (in your final video Skype interview), but this time I get to congratulate you on your acceptance; into […]

Posted On

07/7/10

Author

Christina Rivera

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Dear Friends,

It is hard to believe that in a short while I will be returning to the place I find most dear to my heart: India. This sense of incredulity is born from the knowledge that soon there will be almost nothing that will even mildly resemble (aside from some dull, post-modern buildings that are being built at a feverish pitch in New Delhi) my immediate surroundings in Tokyo, Japan.

If you allow me, I’d like to take this opportunity to provide you with a little bit of background of who I am and my relation to India; I promise, I will not bore you all with details.

Thirty-six years ago, I was born between a Japanese mother and an American father in the United States, and have since been living between Tokyo and the U.S. all my life. More recently, I have been residing in Tokyo for the past three years and I am married to a Japanese wife. Having dispensed with the most basic facts about my life, let’s move on to India. In retrospect, there was nothing that prepared me for the onslaught of people, colors, imagery, odors, and the cacophony, not to mention chaos, when I stepped off the plane in Bombay (now known as Mumbai) 14 years ago. India became one huge learning curve for me, pushing me to explore and absorb this awesomely diverse and complex culture. Different strings of encounters led me to an organic farm in Karnataka, one of the southern sates, and then to Auroville (http://www.auroville.org/), a commune located in the state of Tamil Nadu. Subsequently, I visited Varanasi as the last leg of my trip before returning home for Christmas, but, to make a long story short, ended up extending my stay for the next 5 years. All in all, I have lived in Varanasi for 7 years.

There is no “boring” time to visit India, but I believe we will all be stepping foot on Indian soil at a tremendously interesting time. India, having been (not completely) unshackled from the chains of socialist regulatory nightmare that has hampered its economic growth since Independence, is now growing at a very robust pace. Although there are varying reports, The Organization for Economic Development (OECD) forecasts India’s GDP to grow by 7.3% in fiscal year 2010. This means that there will be more money, more middle class, more cars, more pollution and more inequalities.

In this context, what I suggest is to keep an open mind. I do not know what “image” you all have about India or the various anecdotes you have heard from people who have or have not been there before, but I believe it would be helpful if we all leave whatever pre-conceived notions about the country behind when we board the plane. You are ultimately responsible for your experiences, and we, as instructors, will be there to help facilitate them.

Not to contradict my previous statement about being “open-minded,” however, there is also a point about being mentally prepared. We will all be exposed to disparate and unfamiliar social customs, sanitary standards, gender roles, economic conditions, issues of privacy, etc. For example, just for starters, for 95% of the time, you will be squatting when you go to the bathroom. You “can” use toilet paper, but you would be responsible for disposing it since there are very few facilities equipped with proper flushing system. (I prefer the Indian method, but I will not get into details at this juncture.) In general, India may betray your “expectations.” There will be moments of highs and lows, moments of “a-ha’s,” moments of sadness and joy, and moments of home-sickness -- which will hit us all at varying times. The important thing to remember is that you have made the choice to step into the unknown. This means having faith in whatever the outcome may be and that takes courage.

Banaras is a powerful place, a treasure trove of ancient Indian arts and heritage that has and still attracts many. It is a great place to pursue these subjects of great wisdom, but it is also a perfect place to sit by the Ganga (the Ganges River) with your chai (not the Starbucks kind) in one hand, and, well, basically chill out. I have formed many very close, lasting relationships in this town, a unique bond that perhaps I have not experienced in the U.S. or Japan. I am sure you will too.

As your guides and mentors, we are greatly excited to witness this next chapter in your life, but I’d like to also add that this is a reciprocal process, where we will all be exchanging and teaching each other as well.

On that note, see you all in September.

Mahadeva!

Daniel

Daniel Seymour

On-Site Bridge Year India Program Director

akirajee@gmail.com

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Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011

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Introduction

Daniel Seymour,Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011

Description

Dear Friends, It is hard to believe that in a short while I will be returning to the place I find most dear to my heart: India. This sense of incredulity is born from the knowledge that soon there will be almost nothing that will even mildly resemble (aside from some dull, post-modern buildings that […]

Posted On

07/7/10

Author

Daniel Seymour

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Welcome to the Bridge Year India Message Board and Travel Notebook!

As you’ll soon discover, this board is a valuable forum for:

  • introductions by staff and participants
  • addressing all questions regarding packing and trip preparation
  • posting live updates on India and Varanasi's current events & general recommended reading and resources
  • story telling & posting of reflections on experiences in India
  • keeping family and friends updated on the movement of the group and course (especially when in rural areas)
  • sharing & bridging your experience abroad with your communities back at home
  • documenting your shared adventure abroad for use during transference and after your return home

Until the start of your course in August, this will be THE place to find important notices related to your course’s development and itinerary design.It’ll also be the place to learn about your fellow students and India support staff. So please, post a personal introduction! It may reflect any number of things about you: your interests, reasons for wanting to participate in this experience, volunteer placement preferences, or any other thought or inspiration.


Please also begin posting all your packing and prep-related questions here.Don’t be shy - if you have a question, it’s likely that someone else in your group has been wondering the same thing! Your staff has a lot of experience and many, many tips that they’re excited to share with you. So please, ask away.

Setting up the Travel Notebook and message board, in many ways, marks the start of your course. It’s the first step in establishing the community that will support you throughout the journey that lies ahead. Together, you will learn to walk, dress, eat, talk and think in an entirely new way. You will see landscapes that will drop your jaw, and meet people that will touch, change and inspire your life forever. Although your course’s official start date is stilla couple monthsaway, we would like to remind you that your adventure actually began the day you made the choice to join in this adventure. Choosing to make your dream a reality took immense amounts of courage, and all of us congratulate you on taking that first, and most important, step.

Welcome; we’re excited to share in your adventure!

Sincerely,

Christina & Dragon's Administrative Staff



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Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011

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Welcome to Your Bridge Year India Message Board & Travel Notebook!

Christina Rivera,Bridge Year India 2010 - 2011

Description

Welcome to the Bridge Year India Message Board and Travel Notebook! As you’ll soon discover, this board is a valuable forum for: introductions by staff and participants addressing all questions regarding packing and trip preparation posting live updates on India and Varanasi’s current events & general recommended reading and resources story telling & posting of […]

Posted On

07/7/10

Author

Christina Rivera

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