WRITTEN BY: James Rosengren
Rising like smoke billowing from hot coals, the still morning air chilled us to our cores as the misty grey fog settled like a blanket on the grandeur of the Taj Mahal. Enveloped by this mystical cover of opaque air, the ancient building casts a dark shadow, looming menacingly over us. Appearing as if it is erupting from the tender earth below, the enormity of this famed sight is truly exceptional.
So last week saw us settle into a nice routine, a routine which is juxtaposed with the constant bombardment of new and exciting experiences. We continue our morning teaching appearances at the school as well as the more relaxed teaching and sport at the boys home. The school has become more interesting as a number of challenges have arisen. We struggle to keep the excitable children focused for the duration of the extended lesson, as well as having to overcome the complexities that arise while teaching children who speak another language. They do, however, continue to smile and brighten our mornings, leaving us in happy exhaustion as we return for lunch.
The lunch time breaks were filled with trips into the markets and around Udaipur as we shop and stroll through the bustling streets – met by a range of tourists, locals and semi-wild animals.
Yoga commenced this week, and the early morning rise on Monday saw us meet and greet our friendly instructor. The brisk morning air had us all shivering on the roof top as the sun began its daily ascent onwards and upwards. Taking us through a high action warmup, it wasn't long before blood was sent shooting fervently through our veins, heating our bloodstream and warming our souls. Walking us through the numerous exercises and positions, our balance was most strenuously tested while our limbs were indeed stretched to their limits.
Friday came around all too quickly, and we began preparations for our weekend journey to Agra. After lunch, while some headed into the markets for shopping and sleeping bags and others relaxed at home – some headed somewhere else for something different. With the agenda of finding a supermarket to purchase the required snacks for our 13 hour train that would commence in only a number of hours, we jumped in a tuk-tuk and entered busy India. This came to a halt rather abruptly as we found shelter in a little garden and pond centred as a large roundabout. Sitting in the sun of the garden, we enjoyed the serenity for the next couple of hours before again venturing out into the craziness of India for the supermarket and home.
Our final yoga lesson of the week was enjoyed before dinner, and after packing bags we journeyed to the train station, boarding what would be our home for the foreseeable future. Lucky enough to have tickets in a sleeper carriage, we all squeezed in to join the busy bustle with the Indian locals. Our crowded bunks were soon ladled with bags, food and weary bodies. Under the chilly night air, we sheltered in our sleeping bags – keeping ourselves warm and rested.
We pulled into Agra a number of hours later, having enjoyed all the luxuries and thrills of an Indian train – an experience that regardless of it's negatives will always bring a smile to our faces. Making our way to what would be our accommodation for the night, we were dropped by Tuk Tuk at the border of the no vehicle zone that encircles the Taj before walking to Hotel Sheela. A much needed lunch was then enjoyed before we reconvened at Agra Fort - a colossal structure built in the time of the Taj. A tired dinner saw us all collapse exhausted into our beds in preparation for the early rise in the morning.
The splendour of this monument - the declaration of one mans love for his wife - cannot be captured by words, nor by photo as it's raw beauty is matched only by it's immense size. Following our tour guide around the white washed walls of the Taj, we absorbed the beauty with our eyes, and then appreciated it with our smiles.
Awaking early, Tuesday was a special day as we celebrated both Australia Day and India's Republic Day. So making our way to the Boys' Home we were their guests as they marched a parade, made speeches and danced. We then moved to the schools, our little kids performing traditional dances in their traditional clothing. Lunch passed and we enjoyed some relax time before moving to the Boys' Home for a game of cricket.
Thursday saw us reach the eve of the last day at the school and Boys' Home for those volunteers leaving at the end of the four week placement. Commencing the morning with a hike, a number of us journeyed with Pankaj to the top of a nearby mountain/hill temple to view the sunrise - another stunning view coupled with a gorgeous experience. That night, we had organised a farewell dinner and special night for the boys - bringing in a cook to prepare a meal that the boys loved but were not able to enjoy on a regular basis. Gulping down bowls and bowls of rice pudding - the looks of fulfilment and happiness on the boys faces combined with the mixture of theirs and our laughter made the night not a pleasure for us but a worthwhile one.
Saturday morning was filled with final trips to the market for last minute shopping and a heart to heart goodbye to the markets we had become so accustomed to. Following lunch we made our way to the monsoon palace, a building perched precariously upon the precipice of the largest mountain in the Udaipur area. Stunning 360 degree views met our arrival as we slowly took in the expansive city we had come to call our home over the duration of our volunteer experience. As the sun began to leave it's daily perch in the sky, we made our way back into the centre of town for an Indian dance program. An array of colours followed as men and women moved their bodies in the traditional dance styles of time past. At it's conclusion we retired to the lakeside restaurant – enjoying a final meal in the gorgeous city we had spent the last month in. This breaking of bread with the people we had grown so close to was a lovely way in which we could say our goodbyes – but saddening to know the experience had come to an end.
The trip has been an amazing one, because of the culture we have immersed ourselves in; the effect we have had on the children and the lifetime friendships we have forged.