I have been told before that “India offends all your senses”, and I can say that I know exactly what they mean. The colours, the people, the smells, the sounds; all so overwhelming. Everything hits you at once.
Just a heads up, this is going to be a long post, but I experienced so much in just a few days. I will try to keep it short and to the point, but there are some things that I think are important to expand on.
MENTAL HEALTH CENTRES
My first day in India was spent on my field class for Abnormal Psychology. All I was told in advance was that we would be seeing two mental health facilities. I didn’t know what we would see, what they would be like, how they were run, what sort of/if we would be seeing any patients.
The two places we visited were very similar in how they were run, and it was a great opportunity to talk to the head psychologists and psychiatrists at the facilities about mental health in India.
The first place we visited was the Kusumagiri Mental Health Centre. As we were taken to the hall to have an information session, we walked through the inpatient ward; there were men sleeping in their beds and relaxing in the common area. There was an information session about when and how the facility started, how it is organized, and what the staff members do. It is a non-profit organization that started in 1971. Since then the facility has greatly expanded and helped many people.
The second facility we toured was called Lourdes Institute of Behavioural Science, functioning out of Lourdes Hospital. They do very similar work as the Kusumagiri Centre. They both rely on a team of doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists to diagnose and treat a patient. It is a team effort to ensure that every patient receives the proper care.
We also had an opportunity to connect with the students in the special education program at the Kusumagiri Centre who are all autistic. You could immediately see how excited they were to have us visiting for a couple hours. A few of the students performed for us; one sang, one danced, and one played the keyboard. I am sure that they had been practicing for days, and for them to perform for a large group of strangers who don’t even speak the same language took a lot of courage. It was a testament as to how much the Mental Health Centre has helped them.
Both facilities are funded by patients and donations; no government funding is given to these organizations. There are some large companies who will donate either to the facility as a whole, or provide funds to specific areas, such as the playground we saw at the Kusumagiri Mental Health Facility that is being build to help children with balance issues. The money for the project was donated by a local construction company who believes in the work that the centre provides and wants to ensure that they can provide proper help to those who need it.
Family is a very important element of Indian culture, and the mental health centres acknowledge it. They understand that when someone has a mental illness, the patient is not the only one who suffers or struggles. The family is also part of the treatment process and the level of their involvement varies according to the need of the patient. This is a very different process than we see in North America where the patient is treated completely separate of the family. There has been evidence that shows when the support system of the family is involved in the treatment process of a patient, there are better results.
Mental illness has a big stigma in India and many people don’t seek help because of being labeled “mentally ill”. Both the Kusumagiri Mental Health Centre and the Lourdes Hospital are working in the community to change this. They also don’t label themselves as a “Hospital” and instead call themselves a “Centre” or “Behavioural Science Unit”. All of the speakers throughout the day told us that it will take time for the stigma to change throughout India, but by reaching out into the communities and making their presences known.
I was very surprised by the day, and learned a lot about mental health is viewed in India. I am so thankful to the two organizations who invited us into their facilities, and talked with us so openly about how the companies function.
Our plan for the second day was to go and explore Fort Kochi by taking the Ferry. Four friends and I left the ship in the morning and successfully made our way through a crowd of very persistent Tuk Tuk drivers. They were all trying their best to get us to ride with them to our destination but we were adamant that we wanted to take the ferry… spoiler alert, we cracked and were convinced by a Tuk Tuk driver to have him show us around the city for the day.
Sanu (our driver), took us to several temples and churches around Fort Kochi. They were all so different and busy with people going in and out of them to pray. He also took us to lots of local stores to do some shopping. Tuk Tuk drivers get coupons from the owners of stores to bring customers, which explains why he was so insistent on taking us. All the shops that we went to carried similar products; spices, silk, sari’s, carvings, jewlery, statues, and lots of other souvenirs.
I had a good chance to visit with a few of the workers and discuss how the August flood in Kochi had affected them and their families. One of the men named Guru spoke with me about how his family lost everything and how they had to leave their home. I have seen how floods can affect a community, but I think that it is harder for people who have very little to begin with. These families have everything taken away from them and have to rebuild from the foundation. Guru has a daughter attending University in Kochi, so he has to support her along with the rest of his family. The communities lean on each other and rely on the help of the people around them. They are resilient people who are still recovering but manage.
We also took a Back Waters boat tour to see a different side of the city. There were lots of people fishing and we got close to the Chinese Fishing Nets that you can see along all the shore lines. The nets are a popular sight for tourists and all of them are still used by the locals as a means of catching fish. They are lowered into the water to soak and then a weighted pulley system is used to lift them out of the water. It was strange to be taking a boat tour through local fishing spots in the middle of the city with traffic and towers surrounding us.
There were a lot of beautiful tropical birds that my friend Mackenzie (kenziearoundtheworld.com) would have loved to see. She was off on a field program but the whole time I was just imagining how excited she would have been. Her new found love of birds has been sparked by the passion of one of the professors on the ship and her husband, Lindsay and Eric Young. They live in Hawaii, and work at a bird sanctuary to rescue Albatross. This is just one of the amazing examples of how inspirational the professors on SAS are. The ability to spark a passion in their students is very unique and special on SAS.
On the last day in India a couple friends and I went back to Fort Kochi and took the ferry; it cost us 4 rupees ($0.07 CAN) one way, which was a much better deal than when we got a ride from the Tuk Tuk driver. We spent the day wondering around the area, looking at different shops on Princess Street, and watching some men fish using the Chinese fishing nets. We also stumbled upon a great café, Loafers Corner Café, to enjoy some cold drinks and the BEST banana pancakes I have ever had. It was nice to see a different side of Fort Kochi by foot.
“A mind stretched by new experiences can never go back to it’s old dimensions”
I registered in the Taj Mahal Express field program through SAS. It was a little more expensive than if I were to plan the trip myself, however the ease of having it all organized for me was well worth it. I would not have been able to organize all of the sight seeing on my own, especially with such limited access to the internet.
DEHLI; THE NEW AND THE OLD
We flew out of Kochi at 6:00 in the morning (2:30 wake up call) and landed in Delhi about 2 hours later. The day was packed with sight seeing that started off with a bus tour through New Delhi. There is a huge palace that was built by the English King to stay in for holidays; it has 380 rooms and needed 5,000 people to care for the residence. Once India gained independence the structure remained empty until the Prime Minister decided that he would live in a few rooms as a way of showing the English people that they no longer have power in India.
Humayun’s Tomb was the first stop of the morning; built in 1562 by Humayun’s wife after he died from a fall down the stairs. It preceded the Taj Mahal, and is sometimes call “The Baby Taj”. It is spectacular to see what massive structures are built as a grave. We had a chance to explore the grounds a little bit before heading to Old Delhi.
There is a drastic difference between New Delhi and Old Delhi; I knew immediately when we switched sides of town. New Delhi has a very English influence on everything from the roads to the buildings. Entering into Old Delhi, there are thousands of people filling the streets in cars, on Tuk Tuks, rikshaws, bikes and by foot. There are food stands everywhere and no one seems to be moving in the same direction. It is complete chaos as an outsider, but there is some sort of order to it considering it is how their everyday lives functions. There were so many questions I had; where do all these people live? Where do they work? How is there enough food brought into the city to feed everyone, and where does it come from?
Delhi is the size of an American state and has a population of roughly 19 million people. As a comparison, all of Canada has a population of about 34 million. Every time I hear this it blows my mind.
In Old Delhi we visited the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib mosque and went on a rikshaw ride through the market. The rikshaw ride was insane! Everyone was stacked on top of each other, literally bumper to bumper. People would walk through the streets and cross wherever because the traffic is so crazy. On a 4 lane road there had to be at least 8 lanes of cars, trucks, bikes, etc. on top of one another. I just sat in awe of the commotion around me. It’s difficult to put into words how incredible it was.
Our last stop of the day was a Sikh temple as the sun was setting. In Sikh religion, they believe that it is your duty as a creation of God to feed your body. There are volunteers of the temple, who work hard to ensure that those who cannot feed themselves don’t starve. We took a tour through their kitchen where we saw them cooking rice and naan. This is done everyday, and can be done because of amazing volunteers and donators. Inside, the temple is nearly all marble and the walls are covered in gold and jewels. As with the rest of Old Delhi, the temple was full of people who came to worship. It was so beautiful to see families going through the temple and watching parents teach their children the proper way to approach a temple, pray, and exit.
It was a very exhausting and busy day so it was nice to go and relax at the hotel after. There was a lot to process.
The next morning we travelled to Agra and toured Agra Fort. The most memorable resident of the fort was Akbar and then his grandson Shah Jahan. Shah Jahan’s son Aurangzeb put his father on house arrest because of their opposing political views. Unfortunately we were running low on time so we didn’t get to see the entire fort, however we were able to see the area where Shah Jahan spent his time on house arrest.
THE TAJ MAHAL
Constructed in 1631 AD, the Taj Mahal is a symbol of immense and everlasting love. It took 20,000 people to construct the building that stands 144 feet into the sky. Shah Jahan had the temple built after his third and favourite wife died giving birth to their 13th child. History says that she was his soul mate and that he grieved so deeply after her passing that it drastically aged him. After Shah Jahan was placed on house arrest his vision deteriorated to the point that he couldn’t see across the river well enough to look at the Taj; it has been said that he would stare at the reflection of the Taj through a diamond in the wall of his palace.
I have read and seen many pictures of the Taj Mahal, but similarly to La Sagrada Familia in Spain, no text or picture can do justice to the size of the structure. Walking through the red gates that opens up to the first view of the Taj Mahal is a memory I will always cherish. Even though there was a swarm of people walking through the gate at the same time, I had no concept of anyone around me. There is perfect symmetry of the arch in the gate, and the dome of the Taj.
Awe! The only word that can be used to describe how I felt over the 2 hours spent admiring the Taj Mahal. Utter Awe. We arrived in the late afternoon so the sun was still high in the sky, providing a beautiful blue backdrop the starch white building. As the sun set, the orange light that changed the colour of the sky also dusted the Taj. It was constantly changing as the sun set and consistently became more beautiful.
From a distance, the only details that can be seen are what the shadows provide, but as you move closer you can see the intricate detail that covers the walls. There are quotes from the Quran surrounding the entrance, and detailed carvings in the marble around the arches. Inside is the tomb of the past emperor and his queen laying in their final resting place side by side.
There were hundreds, if not thousands, of Indian people who were there simply to walk inside the tomb. The line completely wrapped around the outside of the Taj before people were able to spend a brief 5 minutes inside observing the tombs. Tourists have a different entrance so we were able to go through a shorter line. The same amount of details continues inside on the white marble. There are lattice windows carved from the marble to allow for natural light to enter from all sides. Exiting the tomb, I walked around the entirety of the structure soaking in as much of it as I could.
I was completely overwhelmed by the sight of the Taj Mahal.
India was a good example of how travel can sometimes make you uncomfortable, but it is important to let that feeling soak in. The only way you can grow is by stepping out of your comfort zone and allowing yourself to be uncomfortable.
We will never be able to spend enough time in a country with SAS, however, it is a nice teaser of each culture. India is a country that I am already excited to return to and see more of.
Thanks for following along,