The thing I love most about traveling is connecting with the culture in some way. Whether this be through eating the food, going to a historical site, or getting to know the people, I enjoy the bond I form with the culture. Before we left on the trip, we had done some research on the different sites to go visit but were disappointed when we got the tour schedule and realized we wouldn’t have time to see anything we had anticipated.
Over dinner, the night before this, we discussed this with the team culture adviser, Aaron. He felt similarly and told us he would see what he could do to allow us to go to at least one of the sites we had interest. He was successful! The next morning we found ourselves on the way to see Kanheri Caves.
Upon arrival at the gate to the caves, we were met by buses full of uniformed school children. They were all there for a field trip where they were to meet the governor and plant new trees in the jungle. We were not able to drive up the rest of the way with our bus, so we all opted to walk the 2.2K uphill through the dense jungle, to the caves.
One the way we smiled and waved at the school children who were all staring and wondering what we Americans were doing there. One asked if our matching tour outfits were our uniforms. Another greeted us with a cheery, “welcome to India!” The girls were my favorite to watch with their matching braids, holding hands, and giggling (It is socially acceptable to hold hands with members of your same gender but not of the opposite, even of you are married).
As we passed them and continued our way up we began to hear rustling in the trees above us. As we searched for the source of the sound, we discovered little monkeys climbing around. Though we saw many others, I loved seeing the mama monkey cuddling and nursing her little baby. It was such a precious sight.
As we trudged on, the road developed into an upward climb. If we were not sweaty from the heat and humidity by then, this produced a glistening group of Americans. However, I wouldn’t have traded this for a bus ride. Because we were out in the open, we were able to see the mist and clouds settling down on the mountain and enjoy the sights and smells of the jungle.
Finally, we arrived at the Kanheri Caves. These caverns were not natural caves, instead they were actually carved out of the rocky mountainside, between the 2nd and 9th centuries AD. The we’re created to house a Buddhist monastery and each cave had a specific purpose. We first discovered the prayer room, home to two of the largest statues of Buddha, and an acoustic wonder. It was specifically made so that the prayers that were sung would echo on.
Other caves were used as housing, a school, a washroom, a toilet and pretty much anything else you could imagine a self sustaining society would need. The relief carvings in the caves were fantastic, large, and breathtaking, as was the single painting of Buddha that hadn’t worn away through time. I couldn’t keep the look of awe off my face. There we were on a mountainside, surrounded by a village of caves covered by a green moss with a quaint stream running through it all. Stunning!
Soon our time there had to end and after a bumpy bus ride found ourselves at Sumeet Nagdev Dance Arts, teaching a workshop. The students in this class ranged from 17 to 26, most of which were college students also trying to get a degree in dance. The class consisted of lots of partner work and creativity, both things that I love. We ended with some musical theater choreography to You Can’t Stop The Beat (Hairspray), that really let everyone’s personality shine through.
Kyle and the other non-dancer tour leadership had to tag along and ended up sitting in the back of the studio watching the class. In the meantime, Kyle spent his three hours reading The Count of Monte Cristo and playing Settlers of Catan on my iPhone with the tour leader, Jonathon. (Jonathon’s wife, Brittany, and I had a good laugh at our husbands as we watched them zoned in over the the phone.)
The group of dancers we taught soon taught us an important lesson of service. We discovered upon talking to them that each of them takes time each week to teach dance at a local orphanage. We had the chance to go with two of them to their orphanage, to dance. Upon arrival, it was a bit chaotic. The children of the orphanage we’re running around, so excited that we were there. Some were just getting done with their baths and could be seen running across the hallway to get their clothes on. We didn’t know what the plan was so we stood there smiling at the little cuties.
Eventually we were introduced to the kids and they were told to go pick a buddy. I was chosen by adorable Shira, who proudly told me she was 10. Kyle had a little 4 year old boy who was so energetic and excited to have one on one attention. It melted my heart to watch them dance together.
We proceeded to have a dance class with them where we were taught locomotor steps and created axial movements. Kyle joined us with his partner which was probably the most adorable thing I saw all night. Shira never stopped holding my hand during the class. I could tell she needed that personal connection. I wish I could have given her more.
We only stayed as long as we were able but left our partners with hugs, smiles and laughs. This was an experience that touched me so deeply. These children were so young but had experienced so much. Yet, despite what they had gone through, they laughed and smiled. They live a life of poverty and hurt yet trusted us to spend time with them. I hope that I will be able to do the same when I next encounter difficulties. Those children were truly special, special children of God. Through them I feel I was able to be a little closer to him and find that connection to heaven.
*Once again pictures are from my camera, iPhone, and Mark Philbrick, the tour photographer.