Each place you visit in India is often quite unlike the next; there are beaches, deserts, jungles, cities, slums, mansions, farms, suburbs, every pairing or contradiction you could think of. In some areas, cows brush up against you as they wander the streets. In others, monkeys keep a watchful eye for shiny things to steal as you pass by. Street vendors watch you curiously as you dodge potholes and street dogs in the local roads. Then you turn a corner, and it’s your turn to gaze in awe at the incredibly intricate ancient artwork on a gold-plated temple. The sounds of Hindi and a dozen other Indian languages mingled with horn honking and Bollywood tunes are the constant backing track to your adventure. Because India is an incredible adventure.
My first visit to India, two years ago, left me flying – I loved the crazy contradictions and the exhilarating unexpectedness that India offers. As soon as I left, I knew I’d be back; and I was so excited to be selected for one of 20 scholarships on the ‘Reimagining India’ trip run by IndoGenius in conjunction with several Australian universities, all as part of the New Colombo Plan. Because I had been to India previously, I felt like I would know a lot of what to expect – but of course, this trip was named ‘Reimagining India’ for a reason.
Being a part of an experiential learning trip is so different to being on a holiday tour – and really, it’s so much better. I feel like this time I got to experience the heart and soul of India. We visited temples of almost every religion, monuments, historic sites, markets, malls, schools, universities, and of course, the Taj Mahal; we spoke with mythologists, fashion designers, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, bankers, and the Australian High Commissioner; we did yoga and meditation, paraded through the streets with a marching band, rode an overnight train, and Bollywood danced in just about every place we went!
There is no other place quite like it.
More than just visiting monuments and meditating though, we saw the strength and resilience of India. We met women who had been burned in acid attacks and now ran a café to raise awareness and support other acid attack victims (though they are the strongest ‘victims’ I’ve ever met). We went to see one of the Akshaya Patra factories, an NGO which feeds 1.6 million school children in 13,529 Indian schools a nutritious and delicious hot lunch every day (and it was delicious, we visited a school and had one!). We visited 10,000 Startups, a tech start-up incubator which facilitates the creation and expansion of start-up companies for Indians with incredible ideas that solve real-life problems for the developing nation in which they live. We walked through Dharavi, the third largest ‘slum’ in the world, which is also one of the world’s biggest recyclers of plastic, and is home to incredible enterprises in leather, textiles, and pottery; it has an estimated annual turnover of over US$1 billion.
Before I had been to India, I had imagined it. On my first visit, I saw the surface of it. In this trip, I was able to dive deeper and reimagine what I believed I knew. As an education student, I was not just exposed to the wonderful and enriching history and literature (areas I study in my degree) of India; my mind was incredibly broadened by learning about commerce, economics, fashion, mythology, religion, entrepreneurship, dance, culture and a dozen other things that have enriched my views and experience of India specifically, and my life generally. Devdutt Pattanaik, a renowned Indian mythologist, author, and business guru (who we were lucky enough to meet and have a chat with in his own home!) fittingly calls India ‘a beautiful chaos’. And it’s a beautiful chaos that will occupy your mind and your heart for years after you leave. If you ever get the chance to ‘Reimagine India’, jump on board that train because it will change your life.
The CQUGlobal team is currently seeking expressions of interest in the Reimagining India program for November 2017. For more information on this and other CQUGlobal programs go to: www.cqu.edu.au/CQUGlobal