Jaye Xian, a 4th year UNSW student tells his story of his incredible experiences in India during his AIESEC exchange:
Where do I begin? India has been an incredible journey. The places I’ve been to, all the new experiences but most importantly the amazing people I’ve met. I honestly didn’t know what to expect before coming to India or why I even decided to come to India. I guess it was just the lure of visiting an exotic and unknown country. But at the same time I knew this would be a huge challenge and I needed to do this to step out of my comfort zone and develop myself personally.
I have heard stories about India from family and acquaintances – many of which were not nice. In my mind I pictured India to be a dirty, unstable country littered with scammers, beggars and thieves. My first impression of India complemented this vision as I sat in the back of the car taking me to the hostel. I was greeted by a chaotic scene as cars honked and jostled for position amidst a dirty and impoverished background.
However what unfolded before my eyes in the following weeks was something beautiful and unforgettable. Yes there has been some unfortunate events such as being robbed on the train but these have been few and cannot hide the vibrant culture and distinct zeal of this country. Everything was so new to me. I was hit by a cultural storm but rather than stagger I endeavoured to absorb its full might.
In the first week of my stay I saw animals – cows, monkeys, goats and especially dogs – on the streets. There were beggars on almost every corner and overly-persistent street sellers targeting foreigners. There was a carriage on the metro trains reserved for women, Indians would take pictures with unknown foreigners, men would constantly hold hands with each other and there were security checks everywhere you went.
The food was also another hurdle I had to overcome although I guess I was more tolerant to it than most of the other interns. The worst part was that beef and pork weren’t served in restaurants L as well as the fact that the taste tends to be quite heavy and cleanliness was questionable. Street food is served almost everywhere in Delhi although I didn’t try much due to health concerns. I did try a snack called pani puri once which is a crispy ball filled with a cold, spicy sauce. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it but it was a good experience nonetheless!
Another thing I noticed about the country was the clear distinction between two classes – the rich and the poor. There were those with an educated background who spoke fluent English as well as those who did not and struggled to earn a living. However I also noticed that the poor didn’t mind too much about their living conditions in relation to the poor in other countries. There is generally little robbery or theft. Instead people would sing to us on the train to make a few rupees, men and women would go about their daily lives without complaint and poor kids would play cricket in the mud with their bare feets. I guess this is the beauty of India and made me realise what happiness really entails.
Besides learning a lot about Indian culture, I also learnt a lot about different countries around the world due to the mix of nationalities in the internship house, including Egyptian, Indonesian and Brazilian. In fact about half of the interns in the house were Brazilians. Of course there is a language barrier but that only added to the fun and interest. I travelled primarily with them and learnt a lot of Portuguese and things about their country in the process.
Speaking of travelling, I visited so many places in and outside of Delhi, including the Taj Mahal!!!! It was incredible, unreal, mesmerising. We arrived on a day of heavy fog but this only added to the surreal and mysterious nature of this marvel. The intricate carvings on the building, the distinct Mughal architectural influence, the symmetrical design of the complex, the mosques and temples that surrounded it all melded into one to create a vivid imagery of beauty and grandeur.
The next weekend I travelled with a small group to the holy city of Haridwar which is where the Ganges starts its course. It was the first time I travelled by train in India. It was a great experience although probably not the most Indian as I slept in a relatively higher class. The worst part was that next stations are not announced, which almost made us miss getting off at our station! In Haridwar one of the most eye-catching things I saw was a restaurant handing out free food to a long line of homeless people something which I have never seen in Delhi. I also saw a holy man called a Sadhu who was half naked and had paint all over his body. I learnt that Sadhus are people who have renounced their normal lives and the stress and material wealth associated with it. Of course we went to the Ganges and I even took a dip in it but the current was very strong and I almost hurt myself!
But the holiest city of India no doubt is Varanassi. It is the most famous city that the Ganges runs through although the river in these parts was much dirtier than in Haridwar. It was an unbelievable experience. The highlight was watching the cremation of the dead bodies from the boat as well as up close. Bodies are cremated so that the soul can be transported to a better place. After that the ashes of the bodies are dumped into the river, although for poorer people sometimes their bodies are dumped straight into the river as their families cannot afford a cremation. There were also hospices next to the cremation sites where sick people were waiting to die and be cremated. This gave the city a very eerie and atmospheric feel. My visits to Haridwar and Varanassi made me realise just how much religion affects the daily lives of Indians.
My fourth and final trip was to Amritsar where I visited the Golden Temple and the Wagah Border Ceremony held on the border of India and Pakistan. The Golden Temple in my opinion is the most beautiful structure in India (yes even more so than the Taj Mahal!). It is the most famous Sikh temple in the world. The top was made from pure gold and the temple was surrounded by water. We went in the afternoon and the night when it was even more beautiful. I went inside where people gathered to pray although photography was prohibited. I also witnessed the Wagah Border Ceremony where soldiers from both India and Pakistan. Despite the conflict going on between the two countries, it was nice to know there were non-violent gestures such as this where people from both sides have the chance to demonstrate their nationalistic pride.
India has been a crazy rollercoaster. I’m definitely thinking of coming back in the future as there are so many more places to explore and mysteries to be solved. I’ve tried so many new experiences and met so many amazing people who have really made my trip worthwhile. Despite what they say, India is truly incredible!