After eating dinner and saying our goodbyes to our host families in Jaipur, the group met up to head to the train station for our long overnight train to Udaipur. We hopped on the overly crowded sleeper train and found our beds, typically with about 3 people already on them. After some stern convincing and help of our local guide Rishi-ji, everyone managed to have their bed to themselves. After a long journey of trying to sleep through the night, through the chatter and train jolting, we hopped off the train groggy and headed straight to our hotel on a bus.
We dropped off our bags and immediately went for a walking tour of the city. We walked through a market and tried eating from a chickpea plant. Once we had our fair share, we gave the rest to the goats.
The beautiful pastel colors of the city and the endless rustic, incredible windows and doors on every building we walked past, were so captivating. The palace was stunning and offered some of the best views of the city we found during our time in Udaipur.
We headed to the lake for a sunset boat ride and dinner. The amount of sunsets we have seen on this trip will never get old, yet this one was something special. Watching the sun go down around the little islands on the lake with these grand palaces floating on them and relaxing boat rides going on was unreal. We got a ride for ourselves on a boat and cruised slowly through the water past the incredibly expensive hotels on an island and the medieval-style party boats with dance floors. As the sky started to get dark we saw the city begin to light up and arrived at our rooftop dinner. The food was delicious and the dessert was even better — a great last evening before thrown into the most rural week of our lives.
After a fairly short two hour bus ride through the Indian countryside, we arrived at an all girls boarding school in Jhadol. We had, what felt like at the time, a million little girls staring at our bus waiting for us.
For the first two nights in Jhadol, we all roomed together in a big dorm room with aisles of beds for each of us before we met up with our host families.
As close as our group is to each other, we all had a great time the first couple days spending with each other looking at the stars on the roof and listening to Mia give her life biography — something each person has a chance to do on the trip with undivided attention from the rest of us if they choose to.
After our typical routine in Jhadol of a light breakfast and endless amounts of Masala tea, Rishi-ji planned an activity for us in the large markets. We had a budget and our goal was to each pick out something from the market we have never seen before in our lives, a challenge that seemed simple in a land so foreign. Annie found henna for your hair; we later discovered that people use henna in their hair if they don’t like the idea of going gray and beginning to have white hair. We often wondered why we saw men with orange hair walking around, and after this exercise we finally learned. We went back to the school and everyone had a show and tell of what they found.
The next half of our busy day consisted of heading to a rural village in Jhadol by jeep. This drive was by far one of the most mesmerizing, beautiful, “I can’t believe I’m actually in India” rides. My eyes were lit up in amazement by the views passing me and my mind was occupied trying to soak everything in knowing that in just a couple months I will be back home craving this exact moment.
We drove past dusty old shops with the owners sitting outside, endless amounts of motorcycles, women walking with piles on their heads two feet tall, stopping and swerving around the holy cows of India, lakes and palm trees lining the horizon, and women in saris working hard in the fields next to their tiny mud hut homes. There was never a minute of nothing to look in awe at.
We arrived in the village and the people welcomed us with tikka on our foreheads, flower necklaces, and drum playing, while they invited us to do their local dance with them. We listened for a while to them playing their music and singing their songs, then they had us sing an American song for them.
After our group jam session, many people went to play with the children while some stayed and had Rishi-ji translate for us to exchange questions with the locals about their culture. We learned about their religion, their schooling, occupation, and arranged marriages. It was a very interesting experience learning their thoughts on marriage and seeing how surprised they were that we don’t have arranged marriages or dowries in America.
The children also taught us one of their local games and we taught them how to high five before they gave us a tour of their farm.
As the week continued, we landed in the classrooms with no idea what to expect. We realized how difficult it is to be thrown into a class expected to teach without knowing what the students have learned prior, but as we got more comfortable with the girls, we had a lot more fun coming up with activities and games we knew they would enjoy.
On Halloween, each group got to carve a pumpkin with their class and then we all headed outside to do a Halloween-inspired piñata with a clay pot filled with candy hung from the third floor roof of the school.
The host family experience this week was more difficult than the others, but in different ways than what we were expecting. Almost everyone had to sleep outside on cots alongside of the family, quite often next to many cows and goats.
Most people really began to enjoy the simple way of living by these families. My family woke up, had their morning tea, and began to get to work around the house and the farm sweeping the dirt floors, picking up brush laying around the fields, and the cows were sent out to do the “lawn mowing.”
Coming back home from the school, I could sit on my cot outside and watch the sunset with the most incredible purples and pinks I have seen so far. Once the sky turned black, the millions of stars popped out so bright.
Our families cooked over a tiny fire with a pot, yet managed to make the most flavorful, delicious food I have had at a home stay so far.
The bathroom situation was questionable, and the locals seem to not have an issue at all with going wherever they felt the need. For some members of our group, the stomach issues hit in the night and they chose to walk all the way back to the school to be around our new-found Asian comfort in squatter toilets instead of going in the dirt yards.
Something about their simple lives struck a cord, made questions continue to pop up in my head regarding my own life back home and why our society seems to have a need for so many material things when I have been living with a family who has nothing, yet seem to be so much happier than many people in America.
Many of us during this week realized how much we enjoyed this way of life and how much we truly admire these people and how hard they work to survive.
I realized a lot about myself and learned countless lessons in this short week without even realizing it.
I know I will always miss waking up to the outside air and having my cup of tea as I watch the sun come up with my host family. Even though the language barrier was intense, communication was never an issue and we bonded so much more than expected.