Kia Ora! My name is Mai, and I am on the PMSA IndoGenius Reimagining India study tour!
I have decided to write an overall reflection on this past week and cover some of the major questions and highlights alongside new things I’ve learnt in this short period of time!
Our journey started off with more chaos in the midst of travelling than I’ve ever experienced! Though day 1 of our multi-day journey was an easy departure, featuring a tearful goodbye to whānau and Uber eats to our fancy hotel (with a pool), day 2 featured a 2 am wake-up call (totalling two hours of sleep), a packed bus to the airport, and a very inefficient check-in. As we went from one line to the next, we finally cleared customs, and I was able to meet the rest of our group, having spent the first night with only the amazing VUW students!
The first of our many flights to Melbourne started off on time, hopping onto the plane and jumping across the ocean! As this trip has progressed, I’ve begun to do food reviews of all our meals, so I thought I’d chuck up the memorable ones here!
Airline breakfast food was a very bad 4/10, featuring a nice English muffin, cheese and plasticky tomato. Alongside this, it had dried fruit which sounds delicious on paper, but who dries and gives people orange peels to eat! According to the others who ate it, it also had dried lime rinds?!
Following our first flight, the previously very short one-hour layover in Melbourne turned into a never-ending Melbourne airport experience I never realised I didn’t want… Having woken up at 2 am and not sleeping on the flight, it was safe to say the entire crew was exhausted; a long layover not helping this! Though we had fun exploring Melbourne’s airport and spending our whopping $15 voucher courtesy of our five-hour delay, it is safe to say an ideal layover in Melbourne airport is not five hours.
After finally boarding, we proceeded on our journey, flying 13 hours to Delhi, having departed with the knowledge that we had missed our flight to Chennai. It was a nice flight but featured little sleep, and mainly me attempting to become a contortionist in the midst of trying to find sleep.
On arrival in Delhi, I was grilled by immigration and then was met by our airline staff with yet another $15 voucher (roughly 600 rupees) to spend on airport food (plot twist; this food court was located after customs on the departing side of Delhi airport, a place you couldn’t typically access unless your flight was due to depart three hours before… and ours, you guessed it, departed five hours later). Thankfully, Giles can be named man of the week for his amazing calmness and funny ex-tutor who managed to get us into the airport and through customs early!
After a costar coffee and a sample of the KFC vegetarian biryani (5/10), we finally were able to join the IndoGenius team + Tia in Chennai at a hotel we were all envious of.
I would like to give a rundown of our team before I go any further, as I feel like this will be important further on!
First of all, we have Nick: the very cheerful, energetic guide and teacher who is leading our trip! He is full of life and is something very rare to find in today’s academic world! Though in saying this, his energy often can lead to minor disasters involving his trusty 360 camera, which has been dropped more times than I can count, and I will be so glad if it’s still alive by the end of the trip.
Next, we have Meetu: one of the biggest boss ladies I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet! She is both organised and fun, keeping us all on schedule as much as possible when shepherding 21 kiwis who are desperate for Instagram photos (myself included). She holds our team and group together, and we all are so grateful for her!
Next to Meetu, we have Shivani, Meetu’s sister, who has joined us for the first week whilst her job is on break (she teaches high school students). She has provided so much insight into Indian culture and school life and has been an excellent asset to the team!
Suzy is our very amazing health councillor and yoga instructor, always checking in on us and making sure to provide many tips! You can tell she wants to make this trip as safe and enjoyable as possible, and she often reminds me of a loveable grandmother who only wants the best for you! Her yoga classes are a workout and have been so enjoyable; carrying around our yoga mats, on the other hand, has shown not to be as enjoyable… we will see the outcome of this when we fly.
Giles, as mentioned previously, is a very funny man who has been the biggest hype man for all of us. He teaches us Bollywood (something that I am terrible at and dread the day we have to do in front of people). A story I would like to mention in regards to his amazing personality was when I was buying pants in the middle of nowhere, Giles was there hyping me up with some amazing “yesssss” comments! He always matches the astrological colours of the day, something I am very interested in pursuing!
Dougie is another member of our team, though brief; he is joining us till we leave Coimbatore. He has solidly helped the team here and has previously done the tour. He is a travelled man and chats with him are always quality.
Finally, the star of the IndoGenius team, Nick and Meetu’s daughter, Amaya. Amaya reminds us all that a little childish joy can really make a difference. Her youthful energy and inquisitive nature have really bought so many laughs. She is one of the smartest kids I have met, and I look forward to seeing how she goes throughout this very long and tiring trip across India!
Back to our journey now!
Having arrived in Chennai, all 21 of us, plus the team, hopped on the bus and drove to Pondicherry, stopping at the tiger caves that unfortunately do not have real tigers. Alternatively, they did have an abundance of history, culture, and statues of tigers carved into rock.
Now, as we stayed in Pondicherry for many days, I shall do quick highlights so as to not bore both myself and others.
1. Our first night on the town! Though the name may suggest a night out partying, it mainly consisted of wandering the streets in awe, taking photos, and trying not to get hit by motorcycles! This is a highlight because the bonding that occurred between me and the others who went was amazing! Alongside this, being free from both planes and buses and experiencing fresh air and a new environment was so much fun!
2. Wandering through the markets after experiencing the sunrise on Pondicherry beach was so amazing. The life, smells and colours in the market reminded me of the markets in Vietnam. Though you need to watch your step; otherwise, you may step into something undesirable.
3. Seeing an owl! Though we may have owls in NZ, I have never seen one that up close, in the daylight, in its natural habitat. Though I do not have a photo as it was in Sri Aurobindo’s ashram, I shall never forget the moment amidst meditation when I looked up and locked eyes with an owl.
4. Matri Mandir! Though not religious (as the locals claim), the Matri Mandir looks like a scene from a dystopian movie, equipped with people in all-white enforcing rules. Photos do not do this place justice. Sitting at the size of the beehive, a massive golf ball-shaped structure adorns a beautifully curated garden. This structure and the entire concept of Auroville (a community surrounding international unity and sustainability) is such an interesting idea, following ideas of a holistic community that follows the “Mother” (an unfortunate name to title your divine figure as it does give mildly cult-like vibes). Though definitely not a cult, there seems to be a vast difference in what Auroville views as its purpose, and this has been reflected in the conversations we’ve had with many different “Aurovillians.” These differences can be seen through the overgrown, free-flowing permaculture farms contrasting with the perfectly manicured ‘utopian-esq’ gardens that surround the alien-like structure known as the Matri Mandir.
Overall my ending reflection, having left Auroville, where I spent two days, is: though beautiful on paper, an idea of unity and sustainability on a mass scale is unattainable, especially when its citizens themselves are not unified in the purpose of said community. We met a range of characters, all of whom had different stories and backgrounds, each holding a beautiful soul.
5. Bargaining for shoes. Having had Dougie plead for a rest day on our behalf (not that we aren’t having fun, just that 50 hours of travel plus an intense scale can push humans to a state of tiredness that needs rest), we were granted a free day to explore! After a morning yoga session, we packed up our bags and set off into the city, each holding a list of things we needed! On the top of my list were sandals or jandals, having had to take my shoes on and off every time we went into a temple. After hours of searching for clothes and shoes, in which one girl bought crocs, I finally found shoes that called to me, ones that felt like clouds. I had been feeling very left out of everyone’s Birkenstocks shoe hype, so I decided to buy rip-off squishy ones instead. Having had a starting price of 380, I managed to bargain down to 269, a respectable price to pay when some in our group accidentally bought 700 rupee shoes…
6. Hidesign factory: a mosquito-filled place with some of the most gorgeous bags. Hidesign is an Indian high fashion company specialising in bags made out of ethical leather (with only leather from animals that are eaten being used). Though they used ostrich, which I wasn’t a fan of, we saw some NZ deer leather and got to see how a bag was made from start to finish. It was an amazing process, and most of us left wanting a bag. Though this was fun, we all were attacked by mosquitos; no bug spray saving us from the swarm.
Overall these were the highlights of my trip; the first week has gone by so, so fast… We now move on from Pondicherry to Coimbatore, staying at Isha Yoga Foundation, something none of us know what to expect!
If you read this much, good on you!