Temple running through India

Senior compares global customs

In a cross country trip from the chaotic and bustling city of Delhi all the way to the peaceful town of Mcleodganj in the lap of the snow-capped Himalayas, a group of 15 students and three social science teachers traveled on trains, planes, cars, and even pedal-powered rickshaws on a spring break trip through northern India.

Coming from a western nation where everything is heavily regulated, down to the smallest details of our everyday lives, I was in total shock to be herded around the videogame-like streets of India. With horns blaring, our drivers often thrust our vehicles into oncoming traffic only to swerve out of the way in a stunt driver fashion, barely avoiding collisions on the winding mountain roads of Mcleodganj. The beautiful roads, carved out of the side of the Himalayas, were perfect for a James Bond chase scene.

As the largest democracy in the world and a prevailing force of political freedom in a region where most countries are controlled by tyrannical governments, a trip to India was the logical choice for students currently or previously in the AP Government and CTE law classes. Spending most of the time touring historical sites and beautiful temples, the students and teachers alike were impressed and amazed by the stark cultural differences between the United States and India.

“Everyone was friends with each other and everyone was always smiling. Everyone was involved in each others’ lives.” said Leo Weldon ‘18. “I think back to my life in Chicago, and I realized that I really don’t know any local business owners, or even some people on my block. I want to bring back the sense of community to my neighborhood.”

Religion plays a very crucial role in many Indian communities. In Christianity, the prevailing religion in the United States, it is common for Christian Americans to celebrate Christmas and Easter, but forgo many other religious practices. While there is still a secular community in India, a community that our guide, Neha, was a part of, we spent a lot of time learning about the role of religion in the lives of Indians, and the different forms religion can take in the subcontinent of over 1.3 billion people.

The tour group spent time touring both modern and older Hindu temples in Agra, Delhi, and Haridwar, as well as the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the capital of the Sikh faith, and a Buddhist nunnery in Mcleodganj. In Delhi, the group was all marked with Bindis, symbols worn by many Hindus to mark the physical and spiritual center point, by a local clergywoman in a temple, and in Mcleodganj we sat in on a sunrise prayer session in a Buddhist nunnery in the foothills of the Himalayas.

In the first temple we visited, I was thrown off by the decor which, while beautiful, was inlaid with hundreds of intricately carved white swastikas on the red stonework. Coming from a country and a household where the swastika represents hate and horror, it was hard for me to remember that in Hinduism, it is a symbol that wishes well-being and good fortune. Despite being taken aback by the symbol, it was calming and foreign to feel the cold stone floor on my bare feet, as I was following the custom of removing my shoes practiced in all religious places in India.  

While the many religions observed were very different, they all had one ritual in common. Every house of worship required the removal of shoes prior to entry. Even on a tour of a small church in the north, the group was required to go in barefoot, a custom not observed in many American churches.

“The main [difference I noticed] was the taking off of shoes,” said Lauryn Willis ‘18. “Feet are viewed completely differently in India than in America.”