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  • Writer's pictureTasheena Medina

The Beginning of a Pilgrimage in Incredible India: Jainism, Taj Mahal, and Cultural Immersion

India… Incredible India. It’s a place I had long dreamt of visiting, and in the summer of 2022, I had the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage with my wonderful cohort in our Master of Yoga Studies program at Loyola Marymount University (LMU). We were told to expect humble accommodations as our Jainism course included us staying in the lodging of Jain Temples for most of our journey. This meant living like the locals, learning their culture, and eating their cuisine. Each day would include lecture and there was always an adventure planned to compliment it. If for any reason our itinerary was shifted it was most likely an additional experience to be had. Down-time.. well, not much of that existed. The majority of us anticipated “hitting the ground running”, and that is not a saying you can take lightly when you arrive.

Flying from Los Angeles to Delhi via Emirates airlines was a total 21 hours and 35 minutes with a 2 hour layover in Dubai. A long flight? Yes, but I absolutely am all for them. I find flying and traveling a great way for “me-time”. It’s where I reflect and contemplate all I’m experiencing in life. This flight was not much of that. I decided to indulge in the documentaries offered, watching everying from Robin Williams: Robins Wish to Spice Girls: How Girl Power Changed Britain. My nostalgic choices reflect that in this moment I was obviously trying to tap out of my feelings about life. In retrospect, I realized I was trying to detach from my feelings about my life in LA, and that’s okay.

Landing in Delhi at 2:45AM was okay, until I walked off and the grueling pain from swelling began to fill my feet. As I’ve gotten older I gained a slight case of edema when on long flights and the fact that I forgot my wonderful and not so cute compression socks did not help. After getting through customs, exchanging money, and purchasing a sim card I stepped out the doors of the New Delhi airport to enter the world of India. Half asleep, swollen, phone not yet working I wandered around trying to find someone with a LMU sign. “Excuse me ma’am”, is what I heard for about 15 minutes from taxi drivers trying to get you to let them drive you. Eventually, a guy that had been standing there for a while approached me and asked in broken English where my ride was. Something about his eyes said I could trust him so I told him I wasn’t sure. “Here’s my phone, you call.” Luckily our host drivers answered and he told me he was almost there so I stayed in one spot until I saw a LMU sign waving in a sea of people, and he spotted me and waved me over to meet him. Time: 4:30AM with an hour drive to the first Jain temple for a few days.

Arriving at Vallabh Jain Samarak in New Budhpur at 5:30AM, I was greeted by the humid dawn sky, which highlighted the temple’s beautiful architecture. Built in 1997 by Jain businessman named Shri Ratanllalji Chordia, the temple is dedicated to Lord Adinath, the first Tirthankara of the Jains, and is designed in the traditional Jain architectural style.  It is a beautiful and significant place of worship for Jains in the region, and it continues to attract visitors from all over the world. I didn’t have much time to explore the temple, though, because I was informed upon arrival that we only had 30 minutes to settle in before our trip to the Taj Mahal.

I was escorted to my room, had a brief interaction with Christine, who would be my roommate for the entire trip and quickly brought myself to the washroom to take my first bucket bath of the trip. Legs and feet swollen, exhausted, and sticky from heat I enjoyed every minute of that cold water waking me up to the hot reality I would be living in for a month. These types of environments and experiences are not for everyone. Luckily for me have, I don’t come from an ideal childhood, so adapting to less than comfortable circumstances comes easy to me these days. I was just happy that I finally made it. That’s until I made it out side back into the heat.

Meeting with our classmates outside I was greeted with our awesome professor and leader of our trip, Dr. Chapple. He informed us that the drive was going to be 5-6 hours long. In that moment my heart dropped because all I wanted to do was be horizontal, but I sucked it up got on that bus and hardly remember much of that drive except my legs feeling like they were getting ready to explode. I was in between sleep and awake the whole time there. Words were coming out of my mouth here and there but I’m not sure they made much sense. Eventually we arrived and were led to our Taj Mahal adventure.

The Taj Mahal is an iconic monument located in Agra, India. Built between 1632 and 1653, the Taj Mahal is a testament to the undying love of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered one of the world’s most stunning examples of Mughal architecture.

The history of the Taj Mahal is as fascinating as the monument itself. In the 16th century, the Mughal Empire was at its peak under the rull of Emperor Akbar. Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, came to power in 1628 and was a great patron of the arts. In 1631, his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal died while giving birth to their 14th child. Devastated by her death, Shah Jahan, decided to build a monument in her memory that would be unparalleled in its grandeur and beauty. The construction began in 1632 and took over 20 years to complete. It is estimated that over 20,000 workers were involved in its construction. The monument is made of white marble and is decorated with intricate carvings and inlaid with precious stones. The centerpiece of the Taj Mahal is the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, which is adorned with beautiful marble lattice screen.

Visiting the Taj Mahal is an experience like no other. As you enter the complex through the majestic gate, you are greeted with a stunning view of the monument. Though a symbol of love, peace, and harmony, the heat that day felt anything but. The closer we got to the temple, to hotter it seemed to get with the blazing heat bouncing off the white marble. So a note to all who wish to visit the Taj and all its beauty.. do not go in July. We still appreciated the experience, but if you want a more weather welcoming one, consider December.

After stepping out of the other side of the Taj Mahal, I looked out upon the Yamuna River. It is the longest and the second-largest tributary river of the Ganges River in northern India. It is consider a sacred river in Hinduism and is worshipped as a goddess in Indian mythology.  It is believed that the river has been flowing for millions of years and has played a significant role in shaping the country’s culture and civilization. Many ancient Indian cities, such as Delhi and Mathura, were established on the banks of the Yamuna.

With gratitude I looked out to the river and took a breath of gratitude. I looked back at the Taj Mahal, and though at this point tired and entering what probably was heatstroke delirium, I was grateful. Life back home was still what it was, but here I was still gifted an opportunity by the Universe to fall in love with the world a little bit more and what was also the beginning of remembering what it was like to love myself.

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