Shaking at the Taj

Today at 5 AM we woke up and for a majority teens that normally would not fly but it was all worth it for the Taj. As the sun was rising at the Taj Mahal we were videotaping the Harlem Shake (for all you old folk, it’s a recent Internet sensation on YouTube). The Taj was sensational with intricate marble designs, has a floating appearance in contrast with the blue sky making it look like a mirage, and was a technological in the fact that it was perfectly symmetrical and they only used string as a measuring tool. The fact that it also had a love story twist also made it quite interesting. Six million people go to visit the Taj Mahal each year and as Bill Clinton rightly stated, “There are two types of people on the world: those who have seen the Taj and those who are yet to see it.” Later that day we went to the marble palace where the owner explained
the process of creating marble inlay similar to the Taj. Apparently Indian marble is the only marble in the world that doesn’t stain. They shopkeeper also showed us a mini Taj Mahal in the shop that took 10 years to make weighing 5,000 pounds. Unfortunately it was not for sale otherwise I would have found room in my suitcase. After we went to the Agra Fort that was 2 acres squared and built by Mogul emperors. After having such a loaded morning we boarded the bus and headed for Delhi. We ended up staying at a fabulous hotel on the last night. All in all it was a wonderful day, though bitter sweet because our voyage is coming to a close.

Miriam Valley. Our Savior’s Sun Prairie

This is our last actual travel part of the blog. Look for more post trip blogs to come. Thanks for traveling with us.

Coming home

We are about one hour away from boarding our flight home. We are looking forward to sharing our experiences with you soon.

When we arrive in Chicago and get through customs everyone will call home with our ETA for the park and ride pick up.

Inspiration

The most powerful thing that happened today was seeing the Bishop really getting into the thick of the action this evening in the market. As Sara, Josh, Brett, and I were observing the cooking process at a particularly vibrant and busy food stall, the Bishop walked over to the chicken grill and naan oven and started a conversation with both the baker and the cook. It amazed me that the Bishop would have not only the desire, but also the courage and the ability to talk to anyone. Seeing the Bishop do this the whole trip is very powerful and inspiring. As I’m writing this, he is making conversation with the puppeteer on the patio of our hotel.
Probably the most entertaining event that occurred today was our rendition of the annual Hindi Festival of Colors. This morning, everyone gathered in the hotel courtyard dressed in white, with the exception of Brett, who was wearing SpongeBob pants. Everyone picked up a mask or a squirt gun. Then we got started. Some people dipped their hands into colored powders, and the fun got started. Everyone started running around and throwing powder at each other. After everyone was thoroughly caked in blues, reds, and greens, we got started with the squirt guns. The funny thing about the water is that it makes the powder further spread over your skin. Everyone turned out quite tie-dyed. Once the powder touches you, it doesn’t come off without a thorough washing. Our festival wasn’t quite as intense as the celebrations around town that started at 1:00 AM last night, but it got pretty close!
The Lord was present everywhere today, as He always is, but I mainly saw Jesus in two places. The first was through all the people that have served us, helped us, kept us safe, and showed us kindness everywhere throughout our journey. Today this was prevalent in the hotel staff and the airline pilots. The hotel staff today was kind, especially as we were leaving Varanasi. They cleaned our room well and they gave us water, which reminded me of the Bible when God says ‘I am the water of life’. Jesus showed himself when the hotel staff gave us water to quench our thirst, just as Jesus quenched our thirst. Jesus also manifested himself in the pilots on our flight to Agra. I personally was very worried about the quality of the plane and pilots after it was announced that the reason that the plane was late was because of ‘minor technical difficulties’. In addition, after the engines were fired up, they began to make a very unusual high-pitched whine, which to me was very disconcerting. However, we got safely through, due in my opinion to the quality of the pilots. I definitely saw Jesus today in the pilots. A second place I saw Jesus was through Bishop Burnside. Today the Bishop was simply amazing. Not only did he make conversation with just about every common person we saw, he also danced in the airport, and he offered some very inspiring statements at our Dwelling in the Word. Bishop Burnside is a very inspiring person, and I think that is where I saw Jesus today.

By Caleb Scarlett, Luther Memorial – Madison

A Day of Enlightenment

We pushed many boundaries today, the first being our wake-up call. After departing from the hotel at 5:15 am, we made our way back to the Ghats, Hindu holy sites along the river. We met our boat on the banks of the Ganges and proceeded to the site of the morning prayers. Viewing Ghats and palaces along the way, we travelled along the West bank. Many of us tried our hand at rowing the boat, some more successfully than others. Our tour guide told us of the differences brought around by British colonial rule, among them including the changes to the caste system. Nowadays, the Brahmins, the priest caste, are more likely to become doctors than priests.

When our ride ended, we landed near the funeral home that we saw last night. Through narrow alleyways, we travelled to the famed Golden Temple. Although, as non-Hindus, we were not allowed to enter the building, we went through security to catch a glimpse.

We spent the next portion of our tour sightseeing, visiting the Banaras Hindu University, the Mother India temple, and Sarnot. The temple contains a scale map of India, complete with mountains and all. After our short time there a snake charmer, whose toothy grin encouraged us to try our hand at holding a python, greeted us. Several of us held the snake; however, few of us enjoyed it.

Siddhartha Gautama gave his first speech at Sarnot. After enlightenment, the now-Buddha travelled from the jungles of Northern India to the religious haven of Varanasi. Although temples and religious buildings were built over the years, the site today is in a state of ruin. The museum isn’t maintained much better, but it contains two of the national symbols of India. We then travelled to a Buddhist temple, one that the Dalai Lama visits often. To finish off our tour of Eastern religion, we viewed a Jain temple.

To complete our tour, we visited a famous silk shop. After viewing the intricate weaving machines that have been in operation for hundreds of years, we were invited into the showroom. We learned that the store is one of only two pure silk shops still in operation in the nation, and only one of a few in the world. The tapestries are some of the most intricate made, and the clothes have no competition. Although not as grand, we returned to the market to complete our shopping. The trip was made by rickshaw, and although one group found themselves temporarily lost, we eventually collected ourselves back safely at the hotel.

A day such as this one reminds us how lucky we are and how grateful we should be. In our travels today, we were exposed to several religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and Islam. In many of these belief systems, followers need to devote their lives to good deeds in order to attain a place in heaven. They think that life is suffering, and only through a good life may they be freed from misery. We remember that Jesus died so that we do not have to suffer.

By Josh Falkos, Advent – Madison

Putting the River to Bed

Today was a very filled day. First we woke up early to catch a flight from Kolkata to Varanasi. Take off and landing wasn’t the smoothest, and some of our patience and personal space was tried on the flight but we all pulled through!

When we arrived in Varanasi we were greeted by our guides. From there we traveled to a McDonalds so we could all at least have a chance to try an Indian McDonalds. The food tasted mostly the same but the menu was different and contained no beef because they are sacred in Hinduism.

After that we all caught cycle rickshaws to the holy Ganges River. The rickshaw ride was an experience I think I will never forget. It was, as Miriam put it, “contained chaos.” It’s so hectic and crazy but they all just seem to know how to navigate their way. Every time you think you’re about to hit someone your driver somehow manages not to. It’s amazing and so scary at the same time.

After we got off the rickshaws we walked through the hustle and bustle of the market to get to the Ganges River where our guides escorted us to a boat so we could go out on the river and watch the putting to bed of the river. It was very elaborate and 7 priests performed the evening prayer which starts at 6.45 and goes about half an hour. After the prayer we went on boat to the crematorium site on the west bank of the Ganges. We learned that about 200 bodies are cremated each day and that Varanasi is the only place where you can be cremated 24 / 7. All other sites are from sunrise to sunset. Our guide then gave us a little history lesson about Hinduism They believe in the cycle of rebirth, and Varanasi is such a holy city to them because they believe if you do good deeds / good Karma, you will attain moksha which is like nirvana for Buddhists. Hindus believe that if you die in Varanasi and your body is cremated in Varanasi you have a better chance of attaining moksha. Also it was a rule that there were no pictures allowed at this site. The guide also explained that when you die before cremation your sons or closest male relatives wash your body in the river so that your sins can be washed away. After performing certain rituals and cremation they put the ashes in the Ganges and put out the flames with holy water. Our guide told us that this river is like a mother to Hinduism, which we all found very interesting.

All in all it was a very eventful day.

Hannah Manke
St Paul / St John Lutheran, Mazomaine

Hosanna!

Palm Sunday morning the grounds of the NELC compound were filled with hundreds and hundreds of people coming to make a palm branch waving procession into the church. Members of the congregation arrived on bicycles; motor cycles, on foot, in cars and by rickshaw. Soon hundreds of pairs of shoes, taken off before we entered the church, filled the narthex and the sanctuary was packed to overflowing. The color from so many saris was a shimmering sea of beauty.

Two and a half hours later the service ended. (The length had nothing to do with my sermon!) There was little said or sung in English other than my sermon, which was then translated into Santali. Even so, we could follow the form of the service. Several of the hymns on this Palm Sunday were familiar melodies and texts that were quite likely being sung in congregations throughout our South Central Synod of Wisconsin as well.

The floor in front of the church was a carpet of children – all of them had their turn to sing “Hosanna songs.” The local youth who had been with us the evening before were there as well and sang — so did our Wisconsin kids!

The little bit of time that was left after worship was occupied with good-byes, hugs and picture taking and gift giving … all testimony to the emotional connection that was made between us all. Before driving away the youth from Dumka invited us into a large circle so that they could pray for us in our travels, give thanks for our meeting and then asked that we pray for them as well. Leaving Dumka was a bittersweet moment.

We traveled in four SUVs over the roughest roads you might imagine, navigating our way around ruts, holes, cows, goats, pigs, dogs, rickshaws, overloaded trucks, cycles and buses with as many passengers on the roof as inside. Two and a half hours later we were at the railroad station ready to reverse our trip and head back to Kolkata for the night.

The countryside in this part of India is nothing less than stunning – as beautiful as any place I have seen. The land is awash with hundreds – no thousands – of trees with tangerine colored blossoms that mix in with stately palms and lush green woods.

Back in Kolkata we emerged from our train into the frenzy of the rail station and then on to the hotel for a quiet and comfortable night, ready to begin the second leg of our trip.

Bishop Bruce Burnside

Grand Welcomes and Sad Goodbyes

On our last full day in Dumka, we were shown the NELC’s rural development project. The project was established in 1991 and works in the areas surrounding Dumka. After seeing hand dug irrigation systems and wells, and a mango tree plantation, we stopped at a women’s co-op. Here, the women run self help groups and are the leaders of the community. The strong contrast in gender roles to what we’ve seen in other communities was a powerful image for all of us. But just as powerful of an image was the welcome we received. When we arrived, the women led us through the village with a dance. It seemed like the entire village was watching us as we walked by. There was a welcome banner and sheets hung up to provide a shaded area for us to sit under. As in many of the other places we’ve been welcomed, the women gave us handmade flower necklaces and washed our feet. When we left, people flocked to our open car windows to shake our hands. Parents lifted their children up so they could say goodbye to us too. Everywhere we’ve been in Dumka has welcomed us with their whole hearts and we’ve been stunned by the hospitality we’ve seen. The people always want us to stay just a little bit longer, eat just a little more and sing just one more song. As Josh observed, maybe they see Jesus in us.

We couldn’t have had a more perfect night to end our stay in Dumka. Some of the local youth met us at the bungalow. Not only did we get to talk with them and learn about their lives, they also did our daily devotion with us. Their unique takes on the familiar bible verse made for interesting discussions. It showed us that even 7,000 mile away, there are teenagers a lot like us, enjoying youth group and talking about their faith. The youth also joined us for a very special dinner. Brighid surprised us by making an American dinner, complete with pizza, garlic bread, applesauce, and Coca-Cola. We explained the food to the Indian youth and showed them how to eat it with silverware. After dinner, we continued sharing fellowship with them. Brighid played guitar, Caleb offered hair care tips and Gracie and Miriam taught everyone the Cupid Shuffle. We enjoyed hearing about their lives, sharing about ours and comparing the two. It was amazing to see how many similarities we shared even though we come from two completely different cultures.Everyone really enjoyed the night laughing and talking with our new friends. Our only complaint was that we wished we met them sooner. I think we really saw Jesus in the connections that we made with them and with the strong faith they all shared.

As we leave Dumka and embark on the second half of our journey, we’ll remember everyone we’ve met here, their incredible kindness and hospitality, and the love and fellowship that we’ve shared.

By Emily Campbell, from Good Shepherd in Madison