{I’m very excited to welcome Trenni as a guest blogger to Flee Fly Flown. A week or so ago, I mentioned her voluntourism trip to India and she was kind enough to take the time to provide a post! Thanks again, Trenni!}

It is safe to say my trip to India can not at all be described as a vacation. Unlike many of our travels my trip was less sightseeing and tourism and more of a cultural immersion; Which is why I’m going to try and do my best to cram three weeks of sights, people, eating and volunteering into a quick post for Flee Fly Flown!

I spent most of January volunteering in Delhi, India. “Voluntourism” is a growing trend in America. It combines travel with volunteering and can be as short as a week long trip, or in some cases as long as a year.

Trenni discovers India while she volunteers there for 3 weeks
{Delhi, India}

I chose a relatively short stay in India of three weeks. In all honestly, I wasn’t quite sure how I would handle being alone in a country that is so different from the Western world. A week into the program, I wish I could have stayed much longer.

The kids I worked with were “lower middle” to “lower” class. Their homes were brick walls, tin roofs, and no indoor plumbing. Our “school” was the same structure as a house, but lacked structure in the classroom. My kids didn’t have text books, desks, or test papers. Each day the kids came to class with a notebook, pen, and eagerness to learn.

Trenni volunteers in Delhi, India teaching kids english

With no set curriculum, teaching English to 20-plus 8, 9, and 10 year olds who only speak Hindi was beyond challenging. It was also eye opening and easily the most rewarding experience I’ve had in my 30-plus years.

The best way for me to describe India and its people is to use the world contradictory.

India is extremely rich and extremely poor. It is teeming with pollution, yet has started an aggressive “green” campaign. India’s Hindu roots preach tolerance and compassion, yet the caste system is alive and well, despite what the laws may dictate.

All of this fostered a love/hate relationship between India and me. At times I was overwhelmed with its beauty and grace, and in the blink of an eye I would be frustrated beyond belief. But in the end, I fell in love with this country they call a subcontinent.

Rickshaw ride through Delhi

I arrived in Delhi very early on the morning of January 8th. As I was driven through the city to my apartment, I got my first glimpse into the two sides of Delhi. One minute I would see luxury cars and gated homes, but a few feet later there would be men and women warming themselves at a roadside fire and brushing their teeth in the street.

I was actually surprised by the modern nature of Delhi. Missing were the high rises I hear dot the landscape in Mumbai, but Delhi wasn’t the dirt road infrastructure I had pictured in my mind. It was, like any big city, crowded, polluted and full of life.

But despite the constant haze that covered the city (and the country), India will forever remain colorful in my mind. The green and yellow motorized rickshaws, bright pink and blue saris, and the rainbow of scarves, bangles, wall hangings, and wood carvings you find in every market, brighten the crazy city.

Markets in Delhi on flee fly flown.

Speaking of markets, if you find yourself in India, shop early and often but always bargain. I made the mistake of having “Western Guilt” and buying at face value. I learned my lesson after two weeks of overpaying! In most markets, the sellers will try and push a product at four to five times its actual value. For instance, while trying to buy a leather jacket, I was first quoted a price of 4500 rupees (roughly 100 US dollars). Knowing what a fellow volunteer paid just one day earlier, I stood my ground at a 1000 rupee maximum. The shopkeeper argued with me for a higher price, until I started walking away. Suddenly, my price was just fine and the jacket was mine for about 20 US dollars.

Words from Gandhi in Delhi on flee fly flown

The markets are amazing in Delhi and the rest of India, but there are more than a few “must see” places. In Delhi proper, a traveler can not leave without visiting Humayun’s Tomb, the Lodi Gardens, the Red Fort, Old Delhi, Gandhi’s Memorial and Gandhi Smirti (the exact place where Gandhi was murdered).

The historical significance and age of the sights and architecture in Delhi put into perspective where the U.S. is as a nation and how quickly we developed in such a short amount of time.

If you visit India, you must also take the time to see and experience the Hindu culture, although I found it was one of the most frustrating and contradictory of all aspects of Indian life. (For example, you must treat every living element on earth–people, animals, and vegetation–as though God is present within. However, the caste system is still alive and well and it is considered bad karma to associate with the “untouchables”.)

Trenni and roommates in Delhi. On flee fly flown.
{Trenni, on the left, and three of her program roommates.}

The Hindu temples are intricate, stunning, and at times, ostentatious. But to understand the Hindu culture is a way to understand the complex and long history of India.

Another must see, the Taj Mahal. It is about a four hour bus ride from Delhi to Agra, but worth the time to see the Taj. So often monuments are made to seem grander than they really are, but the Taj Mahal is an exception. The stark white against a clear blue sky only added to its beauty.

Taj Mahal visit in India on Flee Fly Flown
{The Taj Mahal at Agra}

However, once you’ve seen the Taj, get out of Agra. We stayed the night and it was one of my worst experiences in India. Agra is home to the scam artist and there is not enough in the town to warrant the hassle.

A driving headache that is worth the trip is Riskikesh. A holy town nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, this city on the Ganges river was by far my favorite place in India. It was peaceful, bucolic, and a yogi’s paradise. And you’ll need peace after traveling on two-lane dirt roads for nearly seven hours before arriving. (Despite the distance being less than 200 miles!)

A visit to Rishikesh in India. on Flee Fly Flown
{Rishikesh}

Known as the yoga capital of the world, Rishikesh has at least a dozen yoga centers and ashrams. In the mornings you awake to the beating of ceremonial drums and monks chanting. In the evening the sound of Ganga Havan and Aarti fills the city at Sunset.

The town is small, quaint and friendly, and caters to the outdoorsy types as well. There are day hikes to temples and waterfalls, short trekking trips in the mountains, whitewater rafting, and even a tiger and elephant safari just 45 minutes away.

India challenged me in many ways, but more than anything it won me over. It is not an easy culture to understand, and I endured an almost two week bout of “Delhi Belly”, but I’m already wishing I could return.

– Trenni

{A little bit about Trenni:

Trenni Kusnierek is a sports reporter and radio host who has worked for networks such as ABC, Big Ten, MLB, and NFL. She is currently on 540 ESPN in Milwaukee on both the D-List and Broad Side. Kusnierek is also freelance writing and reporting. An avid marathon runner, Kusnierek qualified for the 2010 Boston Marathon by running a 3:37:02 at the Lakefront Marathon in Milwaukee.}