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  • David Sipos and Sara Weinrod

Penguins Return From “Once in a Lifetime” Trip to India


Penguins pose in front of the Red Fort / Via @swwadventure


Walls students recently returned from the trip of a lifetime to India. The group left DC on April 4 to embark on their 12-day-long trip. Following a layover at JFK Airport in New York City, a 14-hour non-stop flight landed the group in New Delhi, the capital of India. Gabriel Webster and Carole Phillip chaperoned the group of nine students as they traveled to four different cities, visited architectural and historical heritage sites, and concluded their expedition with a relaxing stay at the Ellora Heritage Resort in southern India.


The Penguins began their expedition in Delhi, traveling around the capital via bus. There, they visited the Red Fort, a relic of the powerful Mughal Empire, which oversaw much of the construction of India’s architectural achievements such as the Taj Mahal. They also visited many religious sites, including Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist temples.


They also got the chance to explore the city itself. They visited a crowded Delhi spice market, navigating through roadways packed with people. Gabe Garcia (‘24) said, “I knew that India was just going to be huge, obviously. But it was still a little shocking in person.” With a city proper population of more than 11 million, Delhi was unlike any other visit for the students. “It was a little hectic and it was a little confusing, but we all kind of knew the plan and learned the city together,” said Mr. Webster.


Next, the group drove around three hours to Agra, a city best known as the site of the Taj Mahal. They stayed for one night, and woke up at 4:30am to view the monument at sunrise. “Seeing the Taj Mahal was probably the highlight,” said Mia Turcotte-Keen (‘24), “It was beautiful.” From Agra, the travelers headed to Jaipur, which was filled with more history, architectural marvels, and, notably, shopping. During their three nights in the city, the Penguins spent time exploring the bazaars and collecting souvenirs.


Jaipur is “a big textile city historically,” according to Garcia. They saw “cool handmade scarfs [and] shirts,” he said, which many people bought to take home. Garcia didn’t spend much time on the textiles, but bought a “handmade chess set” for his dad and “earrings” and “some silver stuff” for his mom and his sister. “The nice thing about India is that a lot of stuff was not crazy expensive,” Garcia said.


That said, few of the prices are fixed and students enjoyed learning how to haggle.


“You get really used to this is the price and either I’d take it or leave it. But in India, all the prices were up for debate,” said Mr. Webster. Turcotte-Keen explained how to haggle: “You just are like, ‘oh, 500? No, I only have 200.’ I was bad at it, but it was fun.”


At first, “some people fell for some prices that were just ridiculous.” But they soon learned that, “the second you started trying to get the [price] down, they would just shoot all the way down,” explained Garcia.


Haggling was facilitated by the fact that many people in India speak English. Garcia remarked that, “there was a lot of English speakers, who spoke at least rudimentary English.” Hefound this surprising given that India’s current government “has pretty widespread campaigns that aren’t particularly favorable of English speaking in general” because of the prominence of Hindu nationalism.


Also in Jaipur, the group visited the Amber Fort, a magnificent palace located at the top of a mountain and beside a large lake. Their time in Jaipur was marked by the “split between ancient cultural sites and then a lot of slightly more modern shopping stuff,” Garcia said, and he learned travel skills like “looking around, not falling for tourist traps, [and] not falling for scams, for prices that are crazy inflated.”


As the trip progressed, students became more comfortable maneuvering their way through India. Mr. Webster explained that the teacher chaperones shifted toward giving students more independence, “eventually transitioning to the students ordering all the food for the group,” and being open to changing itineraries if students wanted to visit certain site. “We wanted to do what they wanted to do,” explained Mr. Webster, and “it transitioned [away] from a very teacher-led trip, and, by the end, we were really looking for the students to guide us in a lot of ways.”

Travelers woke up early to see the sun rise over the Taj Mahal / Via @swwadventure


To conclude the trip, the nine students and their accompanying staff members boarded a flight south, to the Ellora Heritage Resort. Here, the Penguins experienced a smaller village which gave them a chance to reflect on their trip.


“We had gone everywhere and been busy every single day, but [the last day] was just a nice day to chill, but then also enjoy the scenery, the country, and spend time just reflecting,” Tur-

cotte-Keen said.


The resort seemed to be a favorite destination among the travelers. “The resort was amazing,” said Nadim Franzese (‘24).


Garcia really enjoyed getting to know “all the people [they] interacted with at the resort.” Finally, while most of the group stayed at the resort to relax or shop, a few students went on one last excursion to the Ajanta Caves, a two-hour drive from Ellora in “kind of the middle of nowhere,” according to Mr. Webster.


“It was these crazy 2,000-year-old caves that were just hand-craved out of the mountain by Buddhist monks. And they would use them as monasteries during the wet season. And then they were just massive. They had these super intricate paintings and carvings on the Walls. And there were 25 - 28 - of them,” said Garcia.


“Not many humans have seen it,” said Mr. Webster, “So its kind of cool to get off the beaten track a little bit.”


By the end of the trip, the group found that they had learned a lot about India.


“I was surprised about the density of the population,” said Franzese, “I obviously knew it as a statistic, but actually seeing it was very... I don’t know. It put things into perspective. It’s very packed in there.”


Students also enjoyed various foods, including “paneer,” a cheese dish found in a lot of vegetarian dishes and “butter naans,” which “were so rich ... not like anything you can find here,” according to Franzese.


Despite the overall success of the trip, the group left India in a bad state. All but one student and one chaperone came down with food poisoning, which happened to hit at the beginning of their three-layover, four-flight voyage home.


Over the course of the trip, the group had been careful of what they drank due to concerns about water quality in India, but “at the end we let down our guard a teeny bit, we had this like really amazing feast the last day and had some really good sugarcane juice that was made fresh in a market,” Mr. Webster explained. “One of those things had some water that was contaminated or something.” Turcotte-Keen theorizes that it was the sugarcane juice “because they were washing it in water.”


“It was rough . . . Everyone was just feeling really bad on the plane and feeling bad at the airports,” said Garcia.


“Some of us could barely walk. One of us was in a wheelchair,” added Franzese. “The first leg of the trip [home] was extremely difficult for me, personally. I was very dizzy, dehydrated, and I couldn’t drink anything because I’d just throw it up immediately.”


On a more positive note, Garcia did say he was glad that they had gotten sick upon returning home, rather than during the trip itself. And despite this complication, most of the trip went very smoothly.


“We [visited] four different cities and it felt like we did a lot of really cool exploring,” said Mr. Webster, “and I feel like in my trip I learned like there’s 70 other places that we should have gotten to, so I really hope I get to go back someday.”

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