The Golden Temple and Jallianwala Baghs

Words like ‘amazing’, ’beautiful’ and ‘spectacular’ are becoming redundant by the day with each place that we visit. Today we saw that The Golden Temple and The Jallianwala Baghs are certainly no exceptions. The day began unusually early for me with the ramblings of my stomach acting like an alarm clock without the much loved snooze button. Only four hours earlier we’d been pulling more shapes on the dance floor than an octagon on a certain ‘E’ intoxicant. Six hours, countless open mouth photos and an Immodium later we had finally arrived to the site of the Golden Temple.

Domes of gold awaited us as we navigated through the tightly packed Indian streets that lead the way to this much anticipated monument. The mid day sun shone through the hussle and bussle of everyday life to reveal a treasure that could only be appreciated through experience. Excitement was in the air as we quickened the pace towards a man who would store our footwear before entering the sacred Sikh Temple. Headscarves brightened up the girls faces while the guys and I went for a more Summer Chic look of sweaty faces under homeless-esque bandanas.

Over a hot entrance of marble paved with brown rags we entered the Temple to the sounds of religious chanting and a Golden Structure protected by a large pool of water. Upon entering I felt a strange sense of calmness, which was counter acted by an eeriness among the devoted worshippers. Tropical fish leisurely swam in the pool alongside men and children who would submerge and bathe in the holy water. A tour guide led us around the different components of a place that provides much more than a location for prayer and spirituality. Amongst these extra facilities we were shown hidden kitchens and dining areas that would cater for one hundred thousand people on a daily and voluntary basis. Inside the main temple sat three prominent men whose religious songs were amplified to the masses outside. Gold covered every nuke and cranny of the roof, poles and various other pieces of the overall architecture. Not one to miss a great photo opportunity before we left, I stripped to my underwear and dipped in the cool of the pool along with some of the guys.

A few minutes walk from the Golden Temple we entered The Jallianwala Baghs. This historical site stood like a reminder of the often violent episodes that took place in colonial India. Just under a hundred years ago in 1909, the British had carried out a massacre on some of the most influential leaders in the Indian independence movement. Walking through the site I couldn’t help but recreate the horrific events which were engraved on several monuments on the grounds. The sounds of gunfire. Screams. Wails. Inside a small shelter, a vivid artist’s impression visualised dead bodies and blood at the hands of men in dome-type hats (the British). Bullet holes on brick holes painted a picture of the frenzied movements of those who tried but failed to escape.

Sami

Lights, camera, action!

Well rested, we enjoyed a continental breakfast with western options and everything from baked beans to smiley faces.  Accompanied by Ankit, Nikita and Mr Kumar we headed to the Punjab campus of Chitkara University where Cara was overjoyed to get real instant coffee after searching long and hard for a Starbucks.

We were again overwhelmed with the hospitality and had an exciting morning of activities ahead of us. Firstly we were given a lesson on Indian cooking and learned how to make Golab Jamam, a famous Indian desert usually served with syrup and were each given chef hats and aprons to take home to Scotland. We were then taken across campus where 8 male students performed another very entertaining and skilful dance, which we were all keen to join in with at the end. The most exciting part of the day was visiting the radio and TV station on campus and having a laugh with the equipment. All of us then got henna ‘tattoos’ – luckily they were temporary because some of the students decided to ink names of the others on their hands… cough Sinead.

Lunch was a typical Indian buffet topped off with ice cream. We then took a break from the activities with time to chill out in the luxury of the hotel. The food over here is sensational and tonight Barbe Cue Nation lived up to all expectations. We danced… again!

 

Karen and Cara

On the road again…

After a lovely dinner and bittersweet goodbye to our new Indian friends we packed up in preparation for the flight to Chandigarh.

After an extensive night bus journey to Mumbai airport it’s safe to say we provided entertainment for the rest of the Jet India passengers with 5 rows of sleeping faces. We were greeted at Chandigarh airport by some familiar faces- Nishant, Naresh, Sahil and Ankit who showed us to the best bus in the world fully equipped with air conditioning, Bollywood beats and refreshments for the road.

Arriving at the hotel we were completely over whelmed by the welcome we received with bags of gifts, flower wreaths, traditional blessing and reception drinks. Shown to our rooms we were soon to discover we were staying in an Indian version of a luxury hotel with plasma tv’s, wifi, king size beds, power showers and room service at our beck and call.

After freshening up we were taken to the Chandigarh rock garden, a sculpture garden also known as Nek Chand’s Rock Garden after its founder Nek Chand, a government official who started the garden secretly in his spare time in 1957. The stunning garden is made up of household waste and recycled products but the end product has been designed to look completely natural, it was amazing to see. At the end of the garden walk there are various activities for the visitors including camel rides- which myself and the rest of the students found hilarious!

We were absolutely blown away when we arrived at Chowkhi-Dhani, a Rajasthan restaurant which was described by Sinead as ‘an Indian Disneyland.’ When we got off the bus we were greeted by a drummer, blessed and welcomed in to what seemed to be a total paradise – the kind of India everyone was desperate to see. We enjoyed a puppet show, were astounded by the magician who managed to conjure up three white doves from nothing, looked in amazement as the colourful dancers stood on glass and plates whilst balancing fire on their heads, joined the dancers (on various occasions) on stage, had palm readings and finally, after all the excitement, sat down cross legged for a traditional Rajasthani meal which we thought would never end as they just kept serving us more and more food!

After a sleepy journey back to the hotel the students managed a few cocktails and karaoke in the hotel club before going to sleep in some of the best beds in India.

 

Karen and Cara

King of the swingers…

Another early morning following a late night of last minute preparations for the long anticipated “GCU students performance”. I felt relaxed over another traditional Indian breakfast seeing as we had all day to touch up our rusty routine. However, it actually turned out we had no time and instead had a long (but very interesting) day ahead of us. First stop was New English School, Pune, where we started off with a planetarium followed by a question and answer session with a group of pupils and staff. The planetarium was something that I had personally been looking forward to but when the time came, the combination of nearly complete darkness and a pretty boring voice over sent the majority of us to sleep. That said though, interacting with the students was more successful. We hadn’t anticipated a grilling of questions which showed when Danielle decided to explain what cereal is and how to pour milk into the bowl, as well as how, “we have a little oven like thing that we put bread in to cook it and it’s called toast.” I also fell victim to the pressure when I started answering a question about what we think of England by talking about how most Scots don’t like the people there, before realising that the question was in fact “what do you think of India?” That said though, the meeting was successful overall and really enjoyable for all of us. We were left with a couple of parting gifts from the pupils in the shape of a flute and a hand made ornament which was a really nice touch (another example of the kindness and welcoming character that we’ve seen time and time again from the Indian people.

The school visit was followed by lunch back at the guesthouse where we were introduced to fresh coconut water. In the afternoon we visited the Inter University Centre for Astronomy & Astrophysics (IUCAA) at the University of Pune. Being from a Science background myself and with a pretty strong interest in astrology I had high hopes for this particular part. It definitely lead up to my expectations and everybody else in the group loved it too. We started off with some cool outdoor experiments like whispering against a concave surface, which can be heard from really far away, and examples of how much you would weigh on the moon. We were then ushered into a class where we were given a demonstration of cool things which can be made from simple household objects like making a hovering pencil and copper wire that never stops spinning. We finished the tour by checking out some statues of famous scientists like Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton.

By the time we arrived back at the Guesthouse we had about an hour to get suited and booted for the grand finale. We walked to the university of Pune and the show started outside. The Indians put on a really impressive show, starting with a short play followed by a band of traditional drummers, which lead to a full-scale dance off between our hosts and us. After the dust settled we went inside where there was a stage with a hall full of chairs set up. It was this point that we realised we hadn’t had a chance to smooth over our performance so Sinead, Sami, Augusta, Bunty and myself stepped aside for one quick rehearsal, this settled the nerves a bit but it was short lived when we sat down and saw an amazing set of dances from the Indians. When the time came for us to go up I was quite nervous about the fact that our opening routine was pretty questionable, but Sinead went up solo first and nailed her performance of ‘At Last’ by Etta James which we watched from the side of the stage and by the time we joined her on stage we were all buzzing. The ‘Intro’ routine went really well and our hosts seemed to love it, Sinead followed it with her classic “I’m the king of the swingers” with a bottle and coin. We then did a bit of Scottish country dancing and got all the Indian helpers involved which everyone enjoyed and finished with auld lang syne.

To finish off this long day all of the students, buddies and staff went for a meal at a nice posh hotel, which was a lot of fun and laughs and an emotional end to a fabulous week in Pune. We are all going to miss the Indian students who helped us out during our stay – a lot of strong friendships were made and we will definitely be staying in touch with all of them.

Gav

Temple

So having all recovered from a myriad of experiences and caught up after a day apart we had an early breakfast to fuel ourselves for our first visit to a temple. With it being a longer drive the prospect of a lift on a moped was out of the question so we all boarded the bus in high spirits and headed on the Solapur Road towards Mumbai, this time as we were wide awake we got to see the surrounding country side change as we headed across the Deccan plateau and down towards the hills. A quick toilet stop resulted in more puppy napping from Cara and a Scottish invasion of one the lorries parked up having a coffee.

Photos taken we dived back on the bus and soon hit the approach road to Bhuleshwar Temple, as we got closer the roads became more windy and the sides fell away to either side, each turn ploughing further up the hill as the temple came to view. Perched on the top of the hill and carved from a single rock the structure is protected by the steep sides of the hill with the remnants of the fort once placed to protect it, unsuccessfully on 3 occasions, from mogul invasion. Once out Dr Sanjeev Nalawad guided us around the temple informing us of the traditions, beliefs and iconography associated with the temple, this was aided by our colleagues from Fergusson adding information on the geography of the area and some of their views on the culture of the area. Whilst in the temple we got to see the intricate stone carvings, statues of Lord Shiva and the bull hall before several of the party got good luck bands and Sinead, ever the consummate performer, had a go on the drums.

Out of the temple the temptation of a nearby carousel was too much and every one jumped on. Much to the delight of group members sat on the seats and local children taking advantage of the enthusiastic pushing done by Gavin, Sami and Augusta. All tired out we headed down past the aquifer that supplies the temple and to a spot overlooking the valley for lunch, cucumber sandwiches and local dishes. Back on the bus we took a detour back through via the Diwe Ghat a chance to see the back roads into Pune.

The evening dinner served up another Indian treat with some of the groups’ tummies getting the hang of the local food better than the others we all relaxed for the evening with full bellies and sleepy eyes.

Michael

Happy Birthday to me!

Today was my birthday, and instead of the normal waking up at 11 and taking the day at a leisurely pace the whole group was to be put with our buddies and they were to take us to their families for the day. Setting off at 10 it was the only time we didn’t know where each other were, and was one of the most exciting and cultural days of the trip.

Starting off with an adrenaline rush on a scooter ride my host took me sari shopping, while others shopped, ate and browsed all over the town. After being given some birthday cake by one of Ishani’s friend’s families I was then taken to my host family’s house, where I consumed enough rice, bread, spice, corn and sweets to fill a king. Then I was very kindly asked if I wished to join the family to see a traditional music performance at a local theatre, and I couldn’t refuse. The performance was a blend of sitars, drums and Indian singing, and made you go in to a dream like trance. The last thing I managed to do was go to a traditional Indian market: crowded, hot and with a bunch of unusual smells. I managed to buy some spices, and then headed home in a rickshaw to be greeted by Greg in a marriage hat! When in India….

 

Danielle

Jai Ho!

On the eighteenth of August everyone in the group was invited to have breakfast with the principal at his office, which was enjoyed by many of the students (excluding Sinead, as cheese is not her favourite food).

After breakfast we had the first lecture with Dr. Triveni Mathur, who introduced us to the basic knowledge of India and its current challenges (which seemed a bit more extensive than an introduction…) Despite this, the information was very useful for one to create a more in-depth image of the country. After the lecture everyone had an hour and a half break before getting back into our fave wee mini bus…

Today was definitely one of the biggest eye opening experiences of my life. We were invited to an orphanage near the Bhaja Caves, about an hour away from our guest house. We were welcomed there with open arms and a very interesting introduction by the founder of the orphanage telling us all about their organisation and their intentions. This would have been good enough for us but, being India, there was of course more! We were invited to meet some of the children who lived at the orphanage. I have never met such wonderful, appreciative kids in my life! Both the kids and us each performed some singing and dancing (as it wouldn’t be India without some dancing included in the day!) It was a lovely occasion getting the children up and dancing with us. Words can’t describe how special this was for me… After the first group of photos, we took an extensive number of photos before being dragged into the other rooms by other orphans encouraging us to play games with them and perform our questionable singing talent. I had a very special experience with a group of the kids playing an Indian board game, learning some Bollywood dancing and watching the cutest performance of “Jai Ho” I will ever see! The kids couldn’t resist showing me their English books for school and after discovering one of the songs they learnt was “If you’re happy and you know it”, I just had to have one last dance with them. The whole day was a really amazing experience and I know I’ll never forget it.

After the orphanage we all began our ascent up to the ancient, Bhuddist “Bhaja Caves”. These structures actually turned out to be less like caves and more like buildings carved into the rocks. We all explored the caves and even had our own Peter Andre’s (Cara and Sinead) perform “Mysterious Girl” under the waterfall…

Everyone explored the caves thoroughly and took many pictures for some memory.

Lenan and Augusta

 

An introduction to India…

Today was our first full day in Pune. For the first part of the morning we had a presentation on the history of Pune and the amazing variety of people, clothes, religions, traditions, and culture. The presentation was really interesting and gave us a good introduction into how vast India is. In the afternoon we got the bus with some of the Fergusson college students and drove into the old part of Pune. We visited: the Shaniwar Wada – a ground fort/residential palace of the erstwhile rulers of the Maratha kingdom; the tribal museum which displayed thousands of artifacts from the different from the different tribes across India; and Agakhan Palace, where Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kasturba Gandhi, and his personal secretary Mahadeobhai Desai were imprisoned from 1942 until 1944. It was amazing to see the old part of Pune. All the buildings were beautiful and it was inspiring to see how Mahatma Gandhi lived during his imprisonment.

Some of the Fergusson College students had also brought their motorbikes which we all took turn of riding as we drove from place to place. One thing we all learnt from this was how crazy the traffic is in India as there are no lanes or give-way systems and the traffic drives wherever there is space. We are all having so much fun getting to know the students at Fergusson college and learning about India and its culture.

 

Sarah

Chak De India!

Day 1 and 2

Impatiently waiting at departure gate 30, eleven of GCU’s “finest” students, and of course, Dr Nick Hytiris, are about to board the plane for INDIA!

Belted up, trays up right we take off on what can only be described as THEE best flight of our lives. Social networking had been taken to the extreme with GCU possessing almost complete attention onboard, making best friends with the cabin crew. Emirates airline sure does know how to make you feel comfortable.

Touch down, MUMBAI, nearly 20 hours later, we took our first steps on to Indian ground, to meet our 12th student Michael, who was impatiently waiting for the rest of GCU to join him.  Nothing could have prepared us for what happened next…

Traffic control, where are you? How did we survive the crazy driving of this country? We could only be impressed by the skill these folk have driving manically.

The bus strolled up through the entrance of Fergusson college, Pune, and echoing Etta James’ words, we were finally here, “At Last!”

Greeted by a crowd of smiley and excited faces, the Fergusson college had given us a very warm Indian welcome!

Allocated to two guesthouses, one for the boys, the other for the girls. Unfortunately for Dr Nick, he got stuck sharing a guesthouse with us lovely ladies!

Opening the room door, I immediately think, “Wow, decent,” but what made me smile more was the fact we have an actual toilet, which obviously was the pressing matter here.

We dropped our bags and out the door we went for a tour of the college, which was seeped in tradition and history from its buildings to its values. Then it was off to watch a very famous Bollywood film, which was for us, VERY tired students, emphasised by Augusta who was dead to the world in the seat next to me, it was a struggle to keep our peepers open, bed was on the horizon…snooze time!! ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

 

Sinéad