My program went to India three weeks ago and my three favorite and clearest memories of this trip were of our time in Varanasi, in Dharamshala and then at the Taj Mahal.

We landed in India after a long night of travel, ate breakfast and went straight to Varanasi. Varanasi is on the Ganges River. It is a beautiful city that is so different than anywhere I traveled. There were cows everywhere. The cows are walking in the middle of the street, cars stop for them and people just walk on by.

This city is holy for the people of different religions and it is clear from the traditions. There are cremations happening around the clock and holy men praying on the banks of the Ganges. In the morning people are bathing in the river and in the evening there is a fire ceremony.

No matter where you look you are assaulted by different images. There are people begging; people selling clothes or spices on the streets; there are food vendors making street food; and there are always a cow nearby, or a trace of a cow.

The colors are bright and radiant: vibrant reds, blues, greens and yellows. The colors were everywhere, on buildings and clothing. The smells were so different from what we experience in a Western country. There were spices, feces, dirt and gas. Starting out in Varanasi was special because it was such a holy sight, but not as well know as the Western Wall or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

When people think about India, they don’t imagine a place like Dharamshala, which is in the north of the country. Being here was something special. It is quiet and peaceful. Even though Dharamshala is probably the farthest place I have been from home, it reminded me of Ashland. We were in the foothills of the Himalaya mountain range; we could see some of the Himalaya Mountains from our hotel. Dharamshala is where the Tibetan government is located. Many Tibetan refugees and the Dalai Lama moved here after fleeing Tibet when the Chinese government occupied Tibet. Others might know this area because it is in the Himalaya mountain range.

My program, Kivunim, went the temple of the Dalai Lama, met with Tibetan refugees and visited some Tibetan government buildings located in India. We learned about Tibetan culture, religion and history and the natural beauty was amazing. The sunsets were breathtaking and the views from the area were wonderful. One day I would like to come back again.

When we left Dharamshala we traveled to Agra and the Taj Mahal. This was a different kind of beauty. The building architecture was different and inspiring. There were carvings in the stone and in places precious and semi-precious inlaid stones. The views from the back of the Taj were amazing but a large contrast of what we were seeing when we were in Dharamshala the previous five days. The views were different because we were in a different place and because the views in front of us now were more plains and the views in Dharamshala were mountainous.

We were at the Taj Mahal for an hour. We had a guided tour of the Taj Mahal and spent time taking pictures in different spots. While we were taking pictures in the front some of us were asked to take pictures with Indian families because we were caucasian and weren’t the ‘normal’ tourists to the Taj Mahal.

Sadly I didn’t get a copy of any of the pictures I was in with these families. They were all friendly and were curious about us. I loved my time at the Taj Mahal but I could have spent a few more hours exploring.

I felt and still feel so lucky to have been to India and on this program. I have traveled and explored six countries while I’ve been on the program so far – Israel, Greece, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Jordan (with the family over winter vacation) and India. I now have experienced to two of the Seven Wonders of the World, Petra and the Taj Mahal.

I now have the travel bug and am looking forward to my next trip, Morocco, Spain and Portugal and my spring break trip in Amsterdam and Paris.

About the Author
Hannah C. Bellinson is from a small town in southern Oregon. She is a student taking an academic gap year before she goes to college. Hannah hopes to study theatre and film.