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GUEST COLUMN: Planes, trains, and tuk-tuks: My trip to India

So, where do I begin? Well, my name is James Durdan and I am a senior at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I am majoring in International Political Economy and Economics and minoring in Spanish and Religion. This past January, I spent 18 days in India with a Carthage class in order to learn about the religions that are practiced there. We were able to travel around northern India and visit the religious sites of Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism.

When we first landed in New Delhi, the capital of India, it felt surreal. I was in India! After seeing its beauty and poverty in books and movies, it was fulfilling to actually see the country for myself. On the first day, we went to a Hindu temple. On the way there, we were able to see the hustle and bustle of urban India. There were so many street vendors trying to sell their many different foods and drinks. The smell of urban soot and dirt mixed with the sweet smells of street food. This loud and busy environment of the street completely contrasted with the tranquility of the Hindu temple. Being financed by wealthy Hindus, the temple was incredibly clean and was placed in a serene part of the city. I felt a million miles away from the busy streets. Since we had to take off our shoes before entering the temple (as a sign of respect), my bare feet were able to feel the coolness of the exquisite marble floors. This temple was my introduction to the beauty of India’s religious sites. During our time in Delhi, we sometimes rode in tuk-tuks, or three-wheeled vehicles. While in them, I felt like I was playing a game of Mario Kart due to their agility and size.

A few days later, we traveled to the most famous site in India: the Taj Mahal. After the death of his favorite wife, a Mughal emperor constructed the Taj Mahal as a tomb for her. The wealth and attention to detail of the Taj Mahal was astounding. He spared no expense as he invited artisans as far away as Europe to make the Taj Mahal a piece of heaven on earth. As I walked into the Taj Mahal, I was able to see the location where the beloved wife was buried. I actually was brought to tears. If love could lead to the construction of such a beautiful place, imagine what love could do to help mankind. The tomb showed me the mortality we all face as humans. We need to make the most of our time here on earth. We need to love more and hate less. Leaving the Taj Mahal, it was no longer just a beautiful postcard, but instead a reminder of how powerful love could be in our lives.

After spending a few days in New Delhi, we took a train to Amritsar in the Punjab region. Amritsar was the beating heart of the Sikh religion. Sikhism, a faith that was born in the 1400s, faced much adversity and oppression during its history. Many of its religious leaders or gurus were killed when they refused to convert to another faith. In Amritsar, my class and I went to the Vatican City of the Sikhs: The Golden Temple. In my mind, the Golden Temple felt like a location in an “Indiana Jones” movie, but after I saw it and went inside, it was so much more. The whole Golden Temple complex held hundreds of people. This temple was covered in gold at the top and was a few hundred feet into a manmade pool of water and a single causeway connected it to the rest of the complex. Near the Golden Temple was an eating hall or langar where we ate most of our meals. This eating hall was free, and anyone was welcome to eat there throughout the day. From drinking chai tea in the morning to eating a filling lunch, the Sikhs showed their kindness to us foreigners with a seemingly endless supply of food. On two occasions, we saw the Sikh holy text taken out of its resting place for the day and we saw it “put to bed” at night. Their holy text, called the Guru Granth Sahib, was carried to and from the Golden Temple during these occasions. It was carried in an apparatus that made it look like the Ark of the Covenant. I was in an Indiana Jones movie. From our time in Amritsar, I developed a deep respect for the Sikhs. Their history of devotion to the faith and dedication to helping others inspired me in my own Christian faith. On a side note, I had never seen so many turbans and beards in the same place (key characteristics of Sikh men).

Saying goodbye to Amritsar, we proceeded to Hardwar, a holy city on the Ganges river. This river was incredibly important to the Hindus because the Ganges river is a place to purify oneself and be close to the Divine (to the Hindus, the river is actually a goddess). During our stay, we were able to perform a puja ceremony at the Ganges river. Before that, I dunked my head in the Ganges river three times. Truly, I felt my sins had been washed away. It was like a baptism. If God is in India, I definitely felt His presence when I went into the Ganges on that one, beautifully sunny day.

Concluding the trip, we spent a few days in Pushkar, a popular tourist destination for foreigners and especially “hippies.” It was famous for having a Brahma temple. Brahma is a Hindu deity that was cursed by his wife to never be worshipped. That is why it is so special this temple exists in Pushkar; it is a rarity in India. The temple was on a really high hill (more like a mountain), so my class and I were able to get a fantastic view of the small town of Pushkar. Pushkar was an excellent place to walk around in for me due to its small size. Since it was touristy, it was a stark contrast from the other places we had been to where we were usually the only foreigners. This was interesting to contemplate.

After returning to the United States, India further opened my eyes to the power of traveling. I felt closer to the people there by conversing, sleeping (on a night train), and eating with them. That is why I travel. I want to create more connections with people of other cultures and nations in order to find common ground. This is essential for world peace and a better future. In the forever divided world that we live in, I invite you to travel. Whether it be out of the country or out of the county, travel out of your comfort zone to see how other people live, thrive, and survive in order to see their point of view. I guarantee you and the world will be better for it. Thank you for reading and God bless.

James Durdan resides in Grand Ridge and is a senior at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.

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