“This journey has always felt like a spiritual one. One that is meant to teach me something greater than the culture of India. One that is meant to startle me, challenge me and bring me to a truer version of myself. I don’t know what to expect, but I do know I will find magic.” β€” Julie Coughlan.

This account of the tour is loosely based on excerpts from the travel journal of Julie Coughlan.

Day 1

Today was our first experience of India. We were shown around Bangalore, the capital city of Karnataka. We visited a famous cricket stadium, a cathedral built in 1808, caught a glimpse of the queen who waved out at us at Bangalore Palace.

We then walked along the famous MG Road and witnessed the whirling speed of life and the sheer number of people that make this metropolitan city tick. The food was spicy, plentiful and delicious. Our bellies are full. Can’t wait for day two.

Day 2

Today we woke early to catch a train to Mysore. We got to ride on the legendary Indian Railways. The air is cool, damp and foggy in the morning. People were rushing to get to their respective platforms and men with silver coffee tins walked back and forth selling coffee by the cup.

We then visited the Mysore Palace. This place was magnificent! It has hundreds of arches with exquisite details and paintings everywhere. Leaving the palace we were approached by a child selling jasmine flowers and a man playing the theme from Titanic on a flute that he was selling.

Day 3

From Mysore, we headed to Coorg. Coorg is known as “the Scotland of India”. It has cool, rain-foresty weather with gorgeous landscapes. This place is impossibly green and picturesque. I was in heaven! It was more beautiful and magical than I had dreamed. We arrived at the TATA Coffee plantation trails around 6:45 PM.

On our long bus drive back to Coorg, we approached a village. A group of small children were engaged in a game of cricket. Anand stopped the bus so that we could join them. They were excited to see us, running around barefooted and welcomed us into their game. After a while, Vineeth walked across to the store and bought them a bag of chocolates and a bunch of new balls. He gave them to us to give to the kids. They ran up and grabbed them with huge smiles. Before they ran off fighting over the balls, they offered each of us a chocolate. I was so impressed! They were overjoyed and my heart was full.

From Mysore, we headed to Coorg. Coorg is known as “the Scotland of India”. It has cool, rain-foresty weather with gorgeous landscapes. This place is impossibly green and picturesque. I was in heaven! It was more beautiful and magical than I had dreamed. We arrived at the TATA Coffee plantation trails around 6:45 PM.

Day 4

Today we woke up to the sounds of birds chirping and the fresh, crisp bite of the cool hillside air. No words can describe the feeling of being in this peaceful and beautiful place. We headed early for a bean-to-cup tour of the coffee plantations. We first got an insightful tour of how pepper is cultivated alongside the coffee. Coorg’s climate is perfect for Coffee production. We were exposed to a step by step process that ran us through the entire process.

There is no descriptively significant way to describe the lush wetland forest of Coorg – it is impossibly Green. It was now time to head back to Bangalore. There were a few more stops on the way back including a sugar cane factory and a rural toy factory. After the sugar cane factory, we were headed to the toy factory when all of a sudden our bus broke down πŸ™‚ We were told that a new one was on its way to pick us up from Bangalore, but that it would take a couple of hours to reach us. Vineeth said that we had to resort to public transport to reach the toy factory on time. So that was what we did. We flagged down a bus and crammed in.

It was nothing of the luxury that we had grown used to. It had open windows, no AC and was crammed with people. We stood in a line along the aisle of the bus, the kids, the adults, all stared at us. What in the world were these white people doing on a public bus? An elderly couple in front of me promptly asked me where I was from. They apparently have a son who lives in NYC and they have visited the US about four times. When I got onto this bus I was a little out of my comfort zone and it turned out to be one of my most memorable experiences.

The toy factory was fascinating and exciting. We all bought a few toys to take back home. Finally, the new bus arrived and we were headed back to Bangalore.

Day 5

We ate breakfast at the delicious hotel buffet and headed to the Wipro campus. Wipro is a huge IT company in Bangalore that employs 130,000 people. We met with a lean pro executive, Nita, who gave us a thorough explanation of the Lean initiative that Wipro has implemented. Wipro has an annual net income of 2.2 billion dollars.

We then headed to St Joseph’s, a Catholic institution that Vineeth had completed his undergrad at. I was so excited to meet a bunch of MBA students from the university. All of whom were doing the same course as us half way around the globe. We sat through a lecture about India’s independence from Britain and its effects on the economy. After which we had a good laugh watching an Indian movie; “Bahubali”, there were no sub-titles so we were making up our own dialogue. It was not a funny movie, but we had a blast in the absence of translated sub-titles.

Day 6

Woke up early this morning and went for a swim. The water was frigid, we had to keep moving to stay warm. We followed that up with the hotel’s delicious buffet breakfast. Today I decided to stick with cereal…Cereal never tasted this good…I think it’s the milk.

We are headed to the TVS factory today. It’s a state of the art manufacturing unit that produces motorcycles and autorickshaws. It was an interesting sight to see a bustling factory floor busy with a large number of workers and robots moving along like clockwork. The factory turns out a motorcycle every 38 seconds.

We then headed to Commercial Street for a spree of shopping. This was a unique experience, the street is filled the biggest brands from across the world. But when you head off onto its side roads, it is filled with handicraft elephants, ganeshas, sarees and jewelry. We bought a lot of stuff…I wish we had more time. But it was time for dinner. We headed to a posh, modern Indian restaurant which had a beautiful view of the city.

Day 7

Today’s place of interest is a long drive away. We are visiting another IT company called Mindtree. However, this time around we are not headed to their corporate office, we are visiting their Corporate Social Responsibility activities in a rural village.

The drive took us through paddy fields, with farmers tilling the soil, wild monkeys and cows being milked. The landscape is turning more mountainous and open, kind of reminds me of Sedona, Arizona but less desert-like.

We arrived at a village and visited a trade school that Mindtree had set up and funded. Its sole purpose is to teach women from these villages skills that could empower them in the open world. There were sewing machines and computers, as well as a teacher instructing a lady in embroidery.

The man who runs this place, Mr. Abraham, started the program years ago. He was named Man of the year in 2012 by Forbes Magazine. He currently has 2000 women on the waiting list to start the program. I have never felt this humbled in my life. I need to be helping people like this.

I know I have already said this, but there is something about India that touches the soul. We ate lunch on banana leaves, my favorite meal so far. A little man who was barefooted served up several savory sides, I’m not sure what they were, but they were delicious. He served a sweet naan that was to die for. After lunch, I told the teacher their work on the wall was beautiful. She promptly pulled one off the wall and gave it to me. People who have nothing and are so giving…humanity is alive here.

The children of the village lined up and sang the national anthem for us. They were darlings. They then asked if we could now sing for them. We looked at each other a bit uneasy and then started to sing our national anthem. And then, something magical happened…a moment of undeniable, unexplainable human connection. Here we were, humans from what seemed like to two separate worlds and we were connected. By the end of the anthem, we were all belting it out with tears in our eyes. These are the moments we live for.

Day 8

We started the day with an amazing Yoga session by a traditional Indian Yogi. We then visited a famous Hindu temple called the ISKON temple. The temple is dedicated to the worship of Krishna. The architectural work on the outside is a true masterpiece. We learned the chant “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare”. It roughly translates to “Oh lord, oh energy of the lord, please engage me in your service”. The chant is meditative and hypnotizing.

We then headed back to the hotel for lunch and got packed up to head to Delhi. Delhi food feels more like the Indian food we eat in the states. It is a lot milder in spice and rice tastes Mediterranean to me πŸ™‚

Day 9

I don’t believe it, this morning I had real pancakes and waffles for breakfast, with Syrup! We then headed to Agra. First stop was the Red Fort. The fort was beautiful, but Delhi was hot! Delhi feels different from Bangalore in general. The people seem poorer, more aggressive and the energy isn’t great. The bus dropped us off at the Taj Mahal. Right opposite the Taj is the slums, people like under a tarp with 4 sticks…it is quite depressing.

At this point, large structures are obstructing our views of the Taj Mahal. As we move through security the anticipation is killing. I knew it was right there! I cannot believe it, I’m in India going to see the Taj Mahal. It was gorgeous. Standing tall in white marble, it lived up to every story and praise that it more than deserved. A true man-made wonder of the world.

Day 10

Today is my last day in India. I’m not ready to leave yet. I had an uneasy stomach last night. I ate a light breakfast and it seems to be ok. Today we are exploring a few historical sights in Delhi.

We visited the Presidential Palace, the equivalent of the White House in India. The security is high, and no cameras are allowed. Every room has tall ceilings, marble floors, and chandeliers.

We then visited India Gate, a memorial dedicated to the soldiers who have lost their lives in Indian Wars.

Day 11

It was now time to head home. The hard part was saying goodbye to the lovely people we had met and traveled with. I will never forget the feeling I had in India. This trip felt deeper than any of my other past travels. To travel is to be alive. To travel is to live.