Friday, 5 August 2016

'I wouldn't change a thing about my trip to India!'

As six Leaders from Dublin sat in the airport at 11am on a Wednesday morning, we had no idea what we were going to be met by on the other side, or the amazing stories and memories that we would come home with. From sari shopping to hiking in a monsoon to cows in the middle of the road, I wouldn't change a thing!

After 10 hours on planes, five hours in airports, five hours in a bus in Indian traffic and numerous police stops, we made it to Sangam for Creating Impact. To say we were met with a smile from

Catherine is an understatement! We were greeted with a fabulous Indian lunch and then whipped off to do aerial yoga, which is every bit as fun and mad as it sounds. Then off to Malaka Spice for dinner. That night we were brought to one of Sangam’s local staff’s home for an Eid celebration, which marks the end of Ramadan. We packed in Parvati Hill and Temple, a lot of rickshaw rides around Pune, another amazing lunch and dinner cooked for us in an Indian home - all before the event started!

The aim of the 'Creating Impact' event was to "learn about ourselves and discover the change we want to be in the world by working on a

Community Action Project (CAP)". Our event had five community partners to choose from, so there was something for everyone. From working with blind girls to painting murals and planting, from sorting recycled clothing to working with disabled children.

The event started with an opening ceremony with the flags of every country present paraded through the hall, finishing with the WAGGGS flag. It was an incredibly moving moment as all the countries came together as one, despite all
the troubles and hurt happening around the world. There was a traditional Indian welcome ceremony in the evening, complete with flower garlands, spices on our foreheads and candle lighting - more magical moments as we were introduced to the beautiful Indian culture.

Sunday brought one of the highlights of the event - sari shopping. Walking in and seeing walls upon walls of fabulous colours and patterns, it's hard not to get excited! The day finished with International Evening. Our event had participants from England, Scotland,
Denmark, two American groups and us. A group of Indian ladies who were heading to Pax Lodge soon also joined us to learn how to eat spaghetti and to perform their Bollywood dance for us.

Over the next three days, we all ventured out to our CAPs, with a rickshaw strike in the city making it a little harder. Murals of waterfalls and peacocks were painted, paths were created, plants planted, songs sung, crafts made, clothes sorted and, above all, a lot of fun was had by everyone involved. We all felt we had done something to make the lives of the people we
met a little better, even if just for one day, and we all felt we grew as people and as leaders.

Thursday morning we got a lie-in and a free afternoon. We took the opportunity to go to the Aga Khan Palace, where Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned in 1942 and where his wife and secretary passed away. There are lovely monuments for both his wife and secretary, as well as a portion of Gandhi's ashes. Just seconds from the horns and madness of the main road, it is an incredibly beautiful and peaceful place,
with lovely handmade crafts for sale. We then headed to the Phoenix Mall, the largest mall in the city for a wander and food.

After a lovely, relaxing Thursday, Friday we headed off at 8am to Aamby Valley for a hike. We were told it was the easiest hike possible, with gravel paths and steps. We did have steps
with rivers flowing down them and a lot of mud on our so called gravel paths! Once we got to the top, all we saw was fog, suddenly like someone flicked a light switch, we could see for miles. It started spitting rain on the way down so we reckoned we didn't need raincoats due to the heat. Within minutes, we were in a monsoon and the typical Irish braved it with no raincoats singing the whole way down! The adventurous day ended with an indoor
camp fire with songs from all round the world.

On our penultimate day we had Indian Afternoon, with people walking around in every
colour you could think of. All in our sarees and punjabis, we looked like something out of a Bollywood movie. We tried Warli art, Indian embroidery, badminton, laughter yoga and Bollywood dancing, went on a trip to the spice shop across the road and had a traditional Maharastran feast, sitting cross-legged on the floor.

The final day brought many mixed emotions - heartbreak of leaving Sangam but the excitement of travelling to the Golden Triangle. We left Sangam and headed to the airport for our flight to Jaipur. In Jaipur, we rode
elephants to the top of the Amber Fort, saw 18th century astronomical clocks, visited The City Palace and tried to adjust to the heat. The views from the Amber Fort of Jaipur City and the river were spectacular, as we ran around like children until the heat got the better of us.

We left Jaipur in the morning to head to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal. Along the way, we stopped in a textile factory and shop, and a gem shop. We did a sunset tour of the Taj from the river side gardens. Standing looking at one of the 7 wonders of the world, a lovely Indian lady came up and asked to get her photo with the 6 of us. Apparently we were more interesting than one of the most famous monuments in the world! We were up at 5am to do a sunrise tour of the Taj the following
morning. Standing by the famous seat Diana, Princess of Wales, got her photo taken and the Duchess of Cambridge sat in more recently, we took a selfie! As we stood proudly in our purple uniform, we saw the lesser-known guest house and mosque stand just as beautiful beside the Taj.

We headed from Agra to Delhi, stopping at a marble workshop and a rug shop on the way. Our stay in Delhi started at the site were Gandhi was cremated. It is a lovely, simple, tasteful memorial to such an iconic figure. From here we went to Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India, holding 25,000 people for worship. Yet again, people seemed more interested in us than the mosque! We then went on cycle rickshaws through the very narrow streets of Old Delhi, where the poor driver had to battle the 38 degree
heat. We went to the local spice markets and learnt loads about the Indian spices and where and how they are grown. We visited the India Gate, a war memorial to the Indian soldiers who fought in the First World War. Through the middle of the gate, there is a beautiful view of the House of Parliament. Seeing as this was our last night in India, we all treated ourselves to an all you can eat buffet in the very fancy hotel next to ours. We were still full the next morning!

We left Delhi with heavy hearts on the Saturday morning, knowing our Indian adventure was very nearly over. We made it to Delhi airport and did as all women do in the airport, hit the duty-free! Over 14 hours and many dodgy plane meals later, we landed in Dublin and were met by our
families, all keen to hear our stories. The mini-figs even got upgraded to first class!

Having been to Sangam, I think it is an experience every Girl Guide and Girl Scout should get to have. I would not change any of it and would be back on the plane the minute I was given the chance! The people we met there will stay in our hearts forever and hopefully on our sub-camp at IGGNITE! The Indian culture is nothing like we are used to in the western world, but it is definitely something to be admired and appreciated. The slums and poverty will break your heart but the beauty and detail in the temples, monuments and palaces are second to none. 

As the Sangam song says: "The oneness found at Sangam brings joy to your soul".

~ Amy Thompson, Leader, Lucan Ladybirds

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