This past weekend, the last weekend of October, I went to Jodhpur with the other YES Abroad India students. It was largely filled with orientation sessions as it is nearing the midpoint of our stay in India. It was a time of reflection and goal setting, but also a weekend of my exchange that I will not soon forget. I saw amazing sights and shared many memories with my fellow exchange students -Colin, Olivia, Alexander and Mckenna.
As someone wise once said, its’s not just about the destination, but also about the journey. To get to Jodhpur, we took an overnight ride on a train. On 27 October, I came home from school to find my bag already packed (courtesy of Muskaan). We all ate lunch together and then I put my shoes on and was pretty much ready to go. I said goodbye to my host mom first since she was not well, so she stayed home while I went with Muskaan and my host dad to be dropped at McKenna’s house. When we got to McKenna’s house, we rang the doorbell but to no avail. We had to call McKenna’s host mom. A little comedy was added to the day when McKenna’s host mom answered the phone as if my host dad was the pizza delivery guy (they were also waiting for a pizza to arrive). Nevertheless, we were let inside, and I met McKenna’s host mom, grandma, sister and their two dogs. My host dad soon had to leave to go to the office and with him went Muskaan. We exchanged a hug and said our goodbyes.
I was quickly consumed with the attention of a hyper German Shepherd and sweet old black Labrador. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what my favorite animal is. Anyways, the pizza soon came but we saved it for the train ride. Instead, we had garlic bread and chocolate lava pies with ice cream. I don’t know why Pizza Hut in the US doesn’t have the latter because they are delicious. McKenna, her sister Dipannita and I chatted for a while and then it was time for us to go. We loaded our bags into the car and went with McKenna’s host mom to the airport where her host dad works as an ATC. From there, we switched cars and headed to the Old Delhi Station. It was a good thing we left so early because we got lost along the way. The positive aspect of that was finding a street vendor who sold amazing masala chai.
We finally found the station, and decided to walk around Chandni Chowk market for a while since we still were a bit early. I didn’t buy anything, but just walking around such a bustling market was quite the experience.
At around 8:15, we met up with Roshan (an AFS Staff Member) and waited for everyone else to show up. Colin and Olivia came first followed by Alex who got caught up in traffic. We entered the train station and walked straight to McDonald’s to satisfy Alexander’s undying hunger (he will NEVER say no to food haha). I got an iced tea and we all ate the pizza McKenna ordered earlier.
The train was supposed to leave at 9:15, but it was closer to 10pm when we finally started rolling down the tracks. All of us talked for at least an hour and a half before going to bed because it was the first time we had all been together since the AFS party in August. We talked about anything and everything and Colin demonstrated his skill in a completely made up language. He sounds fluent in that language which was hilarious to me.
I slept on the top bunk and slept well considering I did not notice that my pillow fell into the aisle at some point during the night. By the time I woke up, we were nearing Jodhpur. Colin and Olivia unfortunately did not have such an amazing experience since they both got sick overnight.
We were met up by an AFS volunteer from Jodhpur and took a small bus back to where our orientation would be, at the Rajmata Krishna Kumari Girl’s Public School. This school is a boarding school owned by the royal family of Jodhpur, so the campus was stunning. We were greeted in the traditional Indian manner with a marigold garland and tika. We were shown to our rooms and allowed to relax before the first orientation session started between 11:30 and noon. We all took showers and then had an abundant amount of food and chai brought to our room for breakfast.
We met with the principal of the school and (of course) got a group photo with the flags in front of the principal’s office. She was very nice and welcoming and hoped we would all have a great time in Jodhpur.
Soon after, we were given a tour of the grounds and saw everything the school had to offer: the sports facilities, the junior wing and even the boarding houses. It seemed like no students were there but that was just because all the senior students were writing exams.
The first day’s sessions came and went like any other orientation. We had to draw our mood curves (which we already knew we would have to) and talked about the Cultural Iceberg (another AFS staple). It was nice to reflect on what we had experienced as exchange students because there’s no one that can relate more to the types of experiences we have.
For lunch and dinner, we ate in the mess. We were expecting to eat just like any other students there would, but when we walked upstairs to our table, we were surprised to see a table draped with a white table cloth and nice dishes set up for everyone. From that point on, we came to expect to be treated like guests. What was the most surprising was that the food was not spicy at all. It was catered to a stereotypical American palate which can tolerate no spice. It seemed like every dish was a variation of some sort of Indian dish except in place of the spicy sauce, tomato sauce was given. Even the green chilies they served were not spicy – just ask McKenna who generally almost dies when she encounters spice.
The first evening’s activity was watching a movie. We watched English Vinglish which is a hindi/English movie (we watched with subtitles). It is a very nice movie but of course, as with anything that’s a part of the orientation we couldn’t just watch the movie for entertainment. In fact, they had to pause the movie when someone (*cough cough McKenna*) fell asleep just 20 minutes into it. It was then that they revealed that the entire next day of sessions would revolve around this single movie. Even I sat up and started critically assessing the movie.
We all went to bed on time (or even early) that night because it had been a long day. We had gone straight from the train ride into a day of sessions.
The next day was a day of orientation sessions for us. It was kind of annoying to be staying in Jodhpur but not being able to experience everything it had to offer. I kid you not, the Umaid Bhawan Palace was visible from the terrace outside the orientation classroom. Nevertheless, it was still a fruitful orientation. We discussed intercultural conflict styles, generalizations and stereotypes, high and low context communication, our experiences in the past 4 months and what we hope to accomplish in the coming 6. After filling out a reflection about the orientation and doing a 5-minute private counselling session, we were all done with the mid-stay orientation. It feels so unreal to me that I have been in India for nearly half of my exchange year. The longer I am here, the more I want to continue to be here for as long as possible.
The second night’s activity was going shopping at the National Handloom Corporation. It was just a 5-10-minute walk from the school, so we all went together. I bought quite a few small things for friends and family. There, I also bought kulfi and ice cream (which are very similar to each other, but I couldn’t help myself). While trying to order kulfi for my friend and I (she was too nervous to ask for something in Hindi), I noticed for the first time that some random people were taking pictures of us. It was amusing to me because I don’t really feel that different than those around me, but it confirmed that I definitely do stick out. The second night was much more interesting even once we returned to the school. McKenna still had a chocolate cake that her host dad bought, so we (Olivia, McKenna and I) brought it down to the park and sat on a bench each having a small piece. Before I knew what was going on, we were surrounded by 25+ kids from the boarding school. We had so much fun together and almost forgot to save a piece of the cake for Alex. We got interviewed by the girls and amongst the chaos, McKenna was renamed Macaroni. Soon enough, they broke into song and dance. Before they had to leave due to curfew, we all got pictures together.
The same night, all five of us exchange students stayed up talking and giving each other shoulder massages until 2am. Again, we talked about anything and everything. All in all, it was a great time though I won’t go into depth since this post is long enough.
The next and final day we were in Jodhpur was the one day we could leave the campus and go sightseeing. We woke up and followed the usual routine of eating breakfast and drinking chai. We went and spoke with the principal ma’am who listened to all of us recount what we learned during the orientation sessions. We then got another picture beneath the flags and wished one of the students a happy birthday when she came to pass around the candy.
We met with a volunteer who had hosted a student through AFS in the past. She is from Jodhpur so she acted as our guide for the day.
The first place we went was the Umaid Bhawan Palace. It was only about a 5-minute drive from the school, so we didn’t even have time to fill out the survey about our stay at the school. Going up the driveway to the palace was amazing because in the rear window, we could see the fort in the distance. At the palace, we walked inside and were greeted by a guide wearing traditional Rajasthani clothes. He was very helpful in explaining everything about the royal family and the palace. For example, I learned that the Umaid Bhawan Palace is the only palace you can visit other than Buckingham Palace in which the Royal Family still resides.
After touring the inside of the palace, we headed out to the garage where countless vintage cars were kept in pristine condition. McKenna, using the philosophy of ‘it never hurts to ask’, got permission for us to go in the non-tourist zone to take pictures of the palace and of us as a group. In the direct sunlight, it was still quite hot despite it being end-of-October, so we went to buy chilled water at the entrance only to find that they had already set up a corner for us with chilled water, cold drinks and kulfi on demand. It was all complimentary because we were staying at the boarding school which is owned by the royal family. It was an unexpected but very pleasant surprise.
After refreshing ourselves, we boarded the bus to go to the Mehrangarh Fort. Along the way, we stopped to drop off one of the AFS volunteers because he had a plane to catch and then we stopped another time, so the bus driver could pick up something. But the second time, we didn’t really stop moving because the bus was put in neutral and not park, so it immediately started rolling backwards when the driver left the front seat. When he saw his bus moving, he tried to turn back but the poor guy slipped on gravel and fell over. Luckily, the AFS volunteer on the bus was smart enough to pull the emergency brake.
Finally rolling forwards, we made it up the hill and to Mehrangarh. The fort is massive and unlike anything I had seen before. It’s crazy to think that this one building is older than the entire United States!
We got a tour guide for the fort who was very monotonous (including the built in humor) but he still was able to give a lot of information. The famous view of the ‘blue city’ of Jodhpur was incredible. No picture of mine really does it justice. The fort seemed to go on forever. It took 2 hours just to walk through it. My favorite part was the courtyards which had a view of the city but also were surrounded by walls which had windows which the women traditionally looked down from since the coronation ceremony is traditionally viewed by males only. I was able to see the spot where the current king was crowned at the young age of 4 years old. From the fort, I bought a spice for my host mom since I know how much she enjoys spices. Plus, I had not tasted any really spicy food which is what Rajasthani food is famous for. The meal at the fort was also complimentary courtesy of the royal family.
After exiting the fort, we walked down to the ‘blue city’ to do some more shopping. Along the way, we saw a camel and Colin and I were asked to take photos with some Indian men. For me, it was the first time being asked to take a photo with a stranger, but I had been told that it does happen (since I obviously don’t share the Indian complexion). Walking down the roads of the old city was an amazing experience. The roads were very narrow and didn’t make much sense to me, but being surrounded by all the old blue buildings amazed me. It made me stop and think about how small I am in this endless maze of a world; it was a moment of realization.
Nonetheless, we made it to the clocktower and the marketplace. We were able to find an ATM that worked for McKenna and then we made it to the shopping destination. I didn’t buy much because it was just another branch of the National Handloom Corporation. After everyone got what they wanted, we walked back to the bus. Walking back to the bus was another extremely tough moment for me. The entire way back, I was being tapped and pleaded for money by the poor women and children on the streets. As someone who is fortunate enough to have more than I could ever need, experiencing this makes me feel extremely sad. The children in those positions may never be able to get out of it. It’s one problem that I, and probably most other people, hope will be solved soon.
When we reached back to the school, we had just under 2 hours until we had to leave for the railway station. For almost the entire 2 hours, we talked with the exchange students hosted at the school – Elena from Italy and Alice from Thailand. It was not nearly enough time to talk about all we wanted to. Before we knew it, we were leaving Jodhpur. It was a bittersweet time for everyone. It marked an accomplishment (the midpoint of our stay) and we were all happy to go back to our host families (4ish days away is much too long). On the other hand, we were leaving Elena and Alice whom we won’t see again until May and it marks the almost halfway point. At least for me, I feel the time is going by too fast.
The train ride back was much less eventful. We were all tired and fell asleep within an hour of boarding the train – though admittedly this train did not roll as smoothly as the last one. We were supposed to reach Old Delhi Station by 6am, but that of course became close to 8am. When we got off the train, Alex’s host parents were right there to meet him, so we wished him well since he had just moved in with that family less than 1 week prior.
The rest of us exited the station but then figured out that all of our host families/drivers were on the other side of the railway station. After waiting for 5 minutes (not sure for what reason), we reentered the station and started walking to the other side of the station.
While walking down the overpass, I was slightly surprised and very happy when I saw Muskaan coming to greet me. We interlocked our hands; we were reunited after a long weekend and I honestly couldn’t be happier. McKenna also came with us since she lives in Gurgaon as well.
I (surprisingly) did not fall asleep in the car on the way back. I felt happy to be back at home. I couldn’t help but smile while thinking about how fortunate I am. I am exactly where I want to be, and I try to savor every moment. If anything, this weekend I learned to be proud of my accomplishments thus far and hope to continue creating memories just like the ones I have made.
Hi! My name is Anna McKane. I am 16 years old and have had a pretty ordinary life up to this point. I believe this experience will change me for the better and I will try everything I can while I am abroad.