Thursday, 21 January 2016

Adventures in India – Learning How to Go with the Flow

COUNTRY: Palampur
PROJECT: Individual
WRITTEN BY: Sarah Piplica

I arrived in Delhi today after about 36 hours travelling - including an unexpected but pleasant overnight stay in Dubai New Year’s night - for what I had hoped would be 'the trip of a lifetime' 'an eye-opening experience.'

I started the trip off grumpy. I was busy being particularly irritated at someone pushing in front of me in the line for the transfers desk at the airport when I remembered something that had come up constantly in my pre-departure prep – to be patient. People run on different clocks and to different cultural norms, and this idea can't be fully appreciated until you are travelling among people from all different walks of life. I realised that I was on the journey, one that I had waited in such anticipation for and felt so lucky to have the opportunity for, and that it was time to start enjoying it – not when I finally arrived in Delhi, or Palampur, or when I felt settled in, or any other time but right now. And enjoy it for absolutely everything that it was. Accha! my eyes were opened....

A solo adventure in Delhi

I love India. I love the Indian people. By the way, India smells fantastic. The lobby of my hotel, my room, peoples' perfume – everything is overly scented in fragrances I have never smelt before and can only describe, rather unsophisticatedly, as flowery and spicy.

I went on an adventure today. I forgot to pack two things – a phone charger and shoes – rather important things. So I thought I would settle into my hotel, get cleaned up and leave for the shops by midday.

On jumping into the taxi it was clear that the driver's English was not the best and he was unsure of where he was taking me. We set off and about an hour later, sitting in traffic I began to feel slightly panicked that maybe we weren't going to the shops 15 minutes away.

I was happy when we finally arrived, but looking up at the building – quite dilapidated, with saris and bronze articles in the windows – I was pretty sure I was not going to find an iPhone charger here.

It turns out choice of wording was critical. I was asking for "shops", but we established that I should have been asking for a "mall". I tried some of the Hindi I had been too shy to practise since being here. "I want bahut bara sundar mall". "I want a very big, beautiful mall" thinking that should be a good enough description.

Maybe he understood me, maybe he had no clue what I said, but eventually we were driving up to a huge mall comprising of 3 buildings, with brands splashed across the outside. It was such a relief. There was no parking lot, instead surrounding this multiplex of Western luxury, was slum dwellings and people selling street food. It was the strangest juxtaposition.

Taj Mahal

I was picked up from my hotel today and taken to the Delhi volunteer guesthouse where some of the other volunteers were already staying. We had breakfast together and it was lovely to get to know the people I would be sharing the next month with. They are all sweet, kind and interesting people and I felt like we all clicked straight away. Breakfast was delicious, roti with honey and some sweet masala chai.

A group off us set off for Agra at 7.30am and when we finally arrived at lunch time I was alarmed at the size of the line, but then realised with relief as we were on foreigners tickets we got to skip the lines. There must have been about 15,000 people there that day. After security we walked inside to the main entrance.

A red stone building with a large archway. Walking through that archway, I knew Shah Jahan's obsession with symmetry meant that that second arch would soon reveal the adjacent white marble palace. But not even knowing this prepared me for the awe I was struck with.

To be honest, you spend most of your time at the Taj trying to snap that perfect picture. When we finally got to the entrance we were taken through the finer points of the design by the guide. All the marble and semi-precious stones set into the walls were hand-carved. The detail is magnificent.


Palampur is amazing. I love the walk to the bus stop through the fields in front of our house and then up the long windy hill. It's something out of a movie - the tall, majestic snow-covered mountains looming over us as we walk through the town, past little corner stores and their smiling owners, and even bigger-grinning kids on their way to school in their smart, brightly-coloured uniforms.

I have just started my placement at the Karan Hospital. The doctors are really friendly, and involve us a lot in explaining what they are doing throughout their consultations. I have learnt so much from them in this short time. I really respect the work that they do in the context of having considerably fewer resources than we have in Australia.

They invite us to observe all sorts of procedures, etc. and it is really helpful to my degree as I get to observe the broader health sector in general and how this hospital fits in with that. I am able to link common ailments and aetiologies with determinants of health for the region and the country in general, and I am looking forward to health promotion week where we might be able to have our own individual impact on the community here given what we have observed.

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