India in a Week

When the Center for Financial Planning’s Jaclyn Jackson isn’t at work or pitching in to help the local community, she’s jetting to the far-off corners of the world. On a recent weeklong trip to India, she experienced the culture, the adventure, and saw world-renowned landmarks firsthand. What started as a visit with her best friend, a Fulbright scholar teaching English in New Delhi, turned into the journey of a lifetime. Here’s Jaclyn’s story:

Day 1:  I’m not in Kansas (Michigan) Anymore

After a long fifteen-hour flight, I finally arrived at the newly built Indira Gandhi International Airport, named after India’s first female prime minister.  Excited to stretch my legs and get some fresh air, I quickly made my way outside.  I was pleasantly surprised by the warm, night temperature, a comfortable 70◦F.  I met up with my friend; we hailed a cab and made our way to her home.  As the cab driver (I playfully dubbed him the Mario Andretti of India) raced down the highway weaving in and out of traffic, frequently honking his horn, and giving wind to the basic rules like driving in your lane, I quickly realized I was not in Michigan anymore. I was definitely in India and I’d just had my first encounter with the congested, fast-paced (and at some points what seemed to be death-defying) traffic that is characteristic of New Delhi.  My friend and I settled into her home, ate a late dinner of Pizza Hut (yes, Pizza Hut –they’re everywhere) and geared up for shopping the next day.

Day 2: The Art of Haggling

I visited two of New Delhi’s popular markets, the Lajpat Nagar Market and Dilli Haat.  My friend and I started off at Lajpat Nagar, a traditional Indian market.  We were greeted by several vendors, all vying for our attention. Admittedly, I was taken by the hustle and bustle of the crowd as well as the vendors’ aggressive sales tactics; this was Detroit’s Eastern Market times one hundred. It was like I was in a movie: beaded jewelry, ornate sarees, and pashmina scarves decorated the set; the sound of merchant’s recruiting customers and broadcasting sales created the soundtrack; and shopping for deals sparked plenty of “action”. After buying a few items at Lajpat Nagar, we headed off to the more tourist-friendly market, Dilli Haat.  There, tourists can purchase unique, one of a kind handcrafted souvenirs from Delhi’s artisan community. Haggling is king at Indian markets and I got my first taste of haggling at Dilli Haat. The merchant offered me an inflated price, “1500 rupees”; I offered a counter, “1000 rupees”.  He quoted a slightly lower price “1200 rupees”, my friend encouraged me to stand firm. He tried again.  I didn’t budge, “1000 rupees”.  Finally, he folded and accepted my counter offer.  Even though I work with investments on a regular basis at the Center, I truly understood the meaning of “market value” haggling in India.

Day 3:  A Walk in the Park

After our busy day at the markets, my friend decided to take me to the Hauz Khas Complex (English translation: Royal Tank).  It is one of the places she goes to relax.  Although ruins of Firuz Shah’s tomb, an Islamic seminary, a mosque, a “water tank” (reservoir), and pavilions create the complex, it functions more like a park for modern South Delhi residents.  HauZ Khas reflects Islam’s influence on India’s culture.  Behind Hinduism, Islam is the most popular religion in India.  The art community surrounds the complex with galleries, posh restaurants, vintage art, jewelry, and clothing stores.   My friend and I enjoyed a meal on the patio of a cosmopolitan restaurant, Amore.  Full of young adults with smartphones in hand, the restaurant crowd could have been superimposed into any restaurant in Collegetown, USA.

Days 3 and 4:  The Great Wonders of the World

A trip to India is not a trip to India without a visit to the Taj Mahal in the city of Agra.  Accordingly, my friend and I set way towards Agra, located about four hours south of New Delhi.  It was love at first sight:  the Taj Mahal is more gorgeous than I’d imagined.  But my reaction was no surprise.  After all, it is known as “the monument of love”. The Taj Mahal is a tomb built by Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, for his wife who died in child  birth.   However, it was surprising to discover the Taj Mahal was not all white marble.  It is decorated with lotus flowers and calligraphy made with precious stone (like jade, jasper, and crystal) inlay.  Our tour guide even revealed some of the optical illusions one would only notice spot-on in person.  The impressive monument took just over twenty years to build.  It is accompanied by a mosque, guesthouse (“jawa”) and guest quarters that could accommodate over two hundred visitors. The Taj Mahal is a definite crowd pleaser; visiting it was one of highlights of my trip.

Day 5:  A Day of Remembrance

Mahatma Gandhi is probably the most well-known person from India; he is a world icon.  His philosophy of non-violent protest has helped liberate people all over the world. Not to mention, he is the originator of my favorite quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Accordingly, I jumped at the chance to visit his national memorial and museum. I gathered tons of information from the museum about how Gandhi led the salt tax protest, how he advocated for women’s rights, and how the charkha became a symbol of Indian independence from the British.  After discovering more about Gandhi’s contributions, it only seemed right to have an eternal flame memorialize his legacy.  As I stood there at Rajghat, the name of Gandhi’s memorial, watching his eternal flame burn, I was reminded that one person’s actions can help millions. I thought about the type of legacy I’d like to create and the impact I’d like to make on the world. 

Day 6:  More Alike than Different

My last day in India was amazingly fun!  I happened to be in town for one of India’s most celebrated holidays, Holi.  Also known as the Festival of Colors, Holi is associated with Hindu mythology but largely celebrates the arrival of spring.  People celebrate by throwing colored water and powder at each other (hence the name, Festival of Colors).  Essentially, Holi is a nation-wide water fight!  My friend’s apartment was conveniently located across the street from the park where her community celebrated.  I crossed the street and entered the park clean as a whistle, but I was instantly attacked by neighbors armed with colored powder and water guns.  And just like that, I was ready for war.  Grabbing two handfuls of colorful powder, I started my counterattack.  After about an hour of throwing powder and spraying water, most of us began interchanging rounds of musical chairs with dancing and eating.   Among others, I enjoyed snacking on pakora, spicy vegetable fritters traditionally served with chutney.  As I sat down for lunch under the eighty-degree sun with a plate of traditional Indian foods, I couldn’t help but remember the annual block picnics I’d celebrated during childhood.  The water fights, the music, the food, the friendly neighbors, the sense of community all reminded me of home.  Even though I’d spent the entire week experiencing new things and learning new customs, in that moment, I couldn’t help but think we are all more alike than we are different.

Day 7:  There’s no Place like Home

The week blew by and before I knew it, I was back on a plane heading stateside.  However, as I walked through the airport noticing people dressed in University of Michigan attire (Go Blue!), I had to admit, there’s no place like home. Still, I brought many memories of India home with me … zooming through busy traffic in rickshaws, haggling at the markets, viewing world wonders, remembering world leaders, celebrating spring festivals, and learning that despite the distance, there is so much that connects us.