Round Square Service Trip in India: Update from Afar

by Mark Friedman, Director of Round Square and Community Service

Read the first post from the trip here.

We finished up our time at the Pathways School and are now in Delhi. The three Athenian girls on the trip and the three Pathways World School girls that were their hosts really bonded. They said it felt like they had known each other for months, not four days. They couldn’t get enough of each other during our last hours at the school, sharing all manner of contact information and strategizing about ways to see each other in the future. But eventually it was time for Yukti, Maansi, and Anya to go back to being regular Pathways’ students and for Malia, Isabella, and Olivia to head off for other parts of India. Our luggage loaded into our vehicle, we waved goodbye to our new friends at Pathways. It was also goodbye to the calm of rural India. Good-bye to horse-drawn carts, fields of blooming mustard plants, and piles of cow pies. Our next stop was the Delhi, home to over 45,000,000 people, and the boisterous cacophony of Old Delhi.

While the distance isn’t so far from Pathways to the heart of Delhi, the number of cars in the way made it a two-hour journey. On our way into the city, we picked up our tour guide, Dolly. She talked about her 37 years as a guide and showed us pictures of her daughter’s wedding, which included seven events. Dolly told us that her daughter had an arranged marriage. Her daughter is very committed to animal rights and the one thing they checked before approving the marriage was that the potential husband would allow her to continue this work.

That afternoon, we visited the Jama Masjid, one of India’s largest mosques. It was built by Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who also built the Taj Mahal. The people visiting the mosque—faithful, entrepreneurial, or curious—were almost as interesting as the structure. Then it was off for a rickshaw ride, a great way to travel the crowded streets of Old Delhi. Even getting to dinner that evening was an adventure: a 20-minute walk through the darkness along crumbling sidewalks with car headlights and beeping horns rushing past.  Gratefully, the inside of the restaurant was a calm retreat.

The next day we visited the government buildings left by the British and taken over by India, such as the Parliament and President’s House.  They’re built in a style that combines European and Indian architecture.  The President’s House is on a long axis with India Gate, a memorial to the Indian soldiers who died in World War I.  The sightlines to the India Gate weren’t worth much however, as it was barely visible through the thick soup of Delhi’s air pollution.

We visited the first Mughal mausoleum, Humayun’s Tomb. The Taj Mahal is the most famous Mughal mausoleum and was built by Humayun’s great-grandson Shah Jahan. Humanyun’s Tomb is gorgeous, but just as important are the grounds. Our word for “paradise” comes from the Farsi word for “walled garden.”  Qutb Minar is another UNESCO World Heritage site and commissioned by the first Muslim ruler of Delhi.  Finally, it was off to Akshardham Temple, which is only five years old.

Today, we get up early for the 3½ hour drive to Agra, once the capital of the Mughal Empire. Agra is famous for the Taj Mahal and also for the Agra Fort, which was once the home of the Mughal emperors. I have been to the Taj Mahal before, but the experience was still astounding. We all know what it looks like, but it is breathtaking to have it standing there in front of you. Our guide, Ashish, was very knowledgeable. Part of what is great about the Taj Mahal is the stone work. There’s amazing stone inlay throughout the building. And the famous white marble on the outside is translucent, which means the building looks different as the light in the sky shifts. We couldn’t help taking tons of photographs. And one of our favorite parts of visiting the Agra Fort was looking upriver to the Taj Mahal on the banks of the Yamuna River.

Tomorrow we have to head out at 6:00 AM to the Genesis Global School, another Round Square school near Delhi. We need to get there in time for a 10:00 AM all-school assembly.  I hope we’re not expected to make a presentation! After a full d
ay of activities at the school, the Athenian students head off with Genesis families to do homestays over the weekend.