India. A land of mystery. Half way across the world from the place I call home in San Diego, California, India has always occupied a spot on my “must visit” list. I like the food, enjoy the occasional Bollywood movie, and love the colorful saris of the Indian women in my community. What’s more, India is a place of high biodiversity, sporting some of the most magnificent animals and plants on the planet. The tiger, the rhinoceros, the banyan: all of these call India home. So when I was offered the chance to go to India as part of a study abroad program, I couldn’t say no!
Although I consider myself pretty well traveled, there were some elements of India that gave me pause. First, India is known to be potentially dangerous to women. In recent years, the sexual assaults of women, both Indian and foreign, have made the news. These acts have stirred a national debate about women’s rights and the role of women in Indian society. I wasn’t too worried about this issue during my travels, however, because I had planned my trip so that I would always be within a large group of students or in a smaller group of women, a party of five. Never would I be alone on this trip. Another concern is that we were headed there in the summer monsoon season. Now, I love rain, and water is life-giving to the rainforests that cover the Western Ghats, where we planned to spend most of our time. But record rainfall and flooding should spur a moment of contemplation in any traveler.
And yet… none of these challenges was enough to dissuade me from the opportunity to explore rainforests, temples, beaches, wildlife and culture in a place as exotic as India. So I boarded a plane and headed east from San Diego, through Newark and Delhi to Pune, in the heart of the Indian state of Maharashtra. Let the adventure begin.