For my Final semester of St. Lawrence, I had originally planed on studying abroad in India. That program was unfortunately cancelled, and I had a wonderful time in Thailand (my new country of study). But thanks to the Freeman Foundation Asian Endowment, I was able to visit India during my October break, and see some of the places I would have travelled in had the India semester ran.
My friend Ben Fishbein and I traveled in India for about 12 days. We are both class of 2017 (fall graduation), I am an English and Environmental Studies combined major, with an Asian studies minor. I am from Glastonbury, Connecticut, and this was my first trip to South Asia. My trip to India began after I had spent almost three months in Thailand, and I couldn’t help comparing the two cultures. Landing in Delhi was a bit like landing on a foreign planet for Ben and I. Granted we had been up since 4, and air travel is never the friendliest experience, but it was immediately apparent that we were going to be treated very differently. Ben and I, two backpackers, must have looked like ATMs to the taxi drivers. We were immediately surrounded as they bartered for our business. Thankfully we walked right back into the departures terminal, followed by a short hop up to Dharamashala. Dharamashala is a beautiful little town nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, and is home to the Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism. My coursework in Thailand had focused on Theravada Buddhism, and it was fascinating to see his temple, and compare it to the much more ornate temples I’d grown accustom to in Thailand. We stayed there for a few days, exploring the country side and the food. We had a brief detour to paraglide in Bur Billing, and then back to Delhi.
Once we returned to Delhi, we fell for a travel agency scam, which was both a blessing and a curse. In an effort to by a train ticket we ended up in a fake version of the national travel agency, and we hired a driver to take us on India’s version of the Golden Triangle. We would travel from Delhi, to Jaipur, Agra, and back to Delhi with a quick stop in Ranthambore. I say it was a scam because we probably could have done the trip for much less than what we paid for, but they booked all of our hotels, and we had a driver who spoke Hindi, which was an enormous help.
My trip to India showed me a bit of the semester I could have had, and I was able to compare two larger forms of Buddhism in their host countries. I was able to contextualize what I had learned in a very real way, and experience a different culture for a short period of time. I cannot thank the Freeman Foundation Asian Endowment enough for making this possible.