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Photo Gallery: Sacred River & Stunning Monuments

On a multi-day field program, voyagers traveled far from the port city of Kochi to visit the chaos of Varanasi and the impressive monuments of Agra. From viewing commonplace activities such as bathing and washing clothes to observing sacred rituals such as an aarti ceremony and cremation on funeral pyres, voyagers witnessed life and death along the Ganges River. In Agra, they gloried in the architectural splendors of the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, both UNESCO World Heritage sites, before visiting one of Mother Teresa’s charity homes. Explore this part of India through the following images and read the impressions of the students below.

As voyagers enjoyed a pre-dawn boat ride along the Ganges River, Rebecca Isaak from Queens University soaked in the activities happening along the ghats, the stairs that lead to the water’s edge. “I studied Hinduism last semester and my professor, who had been to India multiple times, often spoke about how indescribable Varanasi is. While we were on the Ganges that morning, I was contemplating how I had thought I understood Hinduism, but for all the research papers I had written, nothing prepared me for actually being there. Everything suddenly clicked I had a profound understanding of why my professor spoke about Varanasi the way she did.”
Just as the sun was peering over the horizon, young students from a Sanskrit school poured water into the Ganges River, considered the most holy river in India for Hindus, during a morning sun salutation ritual.
Women and young children sold diya, buoyant vessels filled with marigold flowers and candles, to people wanting to make offerings onto the river.
The morning sun bathed the Ganges in pastels and covered Varanasi in a warm glow as the city awakened to a new day.
Voyagers had the opportunity to attend an aarti ceremony at the Dasaswamedh Ghat in Varanasi. Priests face the river, which represents the goddess Ganga for Hindus, and give thanks for the day through chants and a series of movements to represent the five elements.
Lauren Peterson from the University of the Pacific lit a diya while on the river (left). “The music from the ceremony, the chanting of the priests, and the presence of hundreds of observers created a chaotic scene. A sweet aroma rose from the yellow marigolds surrounding the candles in our palms and mixed with the smell of fire and the sacred river where our boat was floating.” The Ganges was filled with boats full of tourists and faithful jostling for a view of the aarti ceremony (right).
Courtney Smith from Transylvania University found a way to engage the children she met in India, by giving high-fives (left). “In India, the first time I saw the children, they were barefoot and walking around aggressively trying to sell their knickknacks for any sum of money. Later that day, I saw a group of children on the street looking at me, and I walked up to them and stuck my hand out for a high-five and smiled. From there it turned into a game of all of the children trying to jump up and reach my outstretched hands for high-fives. Every one of those children were laughing and smiling from ear to ear. I learned from the children I met in India that even something as simple as a smile can make a world of difference.” Two of the children that voyagers encountered that afternoon smiled for the camera while playing (right).
Along with her sister Nicole, Melissa Whitbeck from the Universidad Francisco Marroqu√≠n wanted to share a bit of her home country of Guatemala with the people she met along the voyage. “We got the idea the idea to make and bring bracelets, handmade by a Guatemalan woman, that represent our flag. In every country I have tried to give bracelets to the children I see, but I have realized that all of the people I’ve met have shown the excitement of a child when I tell them it is a good luck bracelet from Guatemala. India was one of the ports where my sister and I were able to distribute many bracelets and the happiness on the children’s faces as we tied them on their hands is something I will never forget.”
Agra Fort covers 94 acres not far from the Taj Mahal. The red sandstone outer walls of the fort hide gorgeous white marble complexes inside (left). Erika Lusky from the University of Florida photographs the Taj Mahal through a window at Agra Fort (left). “The fort reminded me a lot of the Forbidden City in Beijing. There was incredible architecture and wealth behind such simple walls. I was most impressed by the contrast between the gardens and colossal white marble buildings. It also gave me my first, unforgettable look at the Taj from a distance!”
Max Roseman (Ohio State University), Emily Parisi (University of Richmond), Danielle Wagner (University of Missouri), Kayla Euker (University of Colorado Boulder), and Katelyn Smith (Lynn University) stopped to soak in the grandeur of the Taj Mahal during their visit to the historic site.
The Taj Mahal is reflected in Allegra Rumbough‚Äôs sunglasses. Allegra, from Colorado College, said, ‚ÄúI was really impressed and surprised by the sheer size of the Taj Mahal. I was moved that it was such a permanent representation of one man’s love on display for the entire world to see.‚Äù
A father and his children are dwarfed by one of the massive minarets flanking the mausoleum (left). The Taj Mahal was made by Emperor Shah Jahan in the 1600s in memory of his third wife; both of their bodies lie entombed in the main building (right).
While in Agra, voyagers were able to meet many of the women (left) and children at Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, which houses the physically and mentally ill and the impoverished. Kayla Euker from the University of Colorado Boulder and Mariah Eisenstein from the University of Miami watch a busy little girl shuffling her chair from room to room (right). Kayla explained, “This experience was about being present and not putting my own spin on the message that was being delivered to me. By suspending my own judgements, I was able to appreciate a way of life very different than my own.¬†We met many of the adults who smiled from ear to eat at the sight of us, and plenty of children who showed us their toys and asked us to help them walk, eat, or play. The experience with the people there will stay with me for many years to come!”
At the Missionaries of Charity, Danielle Wagner from the University of Missouri¬†described her experience as unforgettable and spiritual.¬†”The women at the Mother Theresa home had this type of aura that radiated positivity. Even though there was little communication, there didn’t need to be because happiness was shared by the simple touch of a stranger’s hand and the presence of their bright smile.”
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