The Graduate School received a generous donation from Dianne Culhane this past Spring which supported six students to study abroad this summer. Kimberly Ryan, a Master of Science in Environmental Studies candidate, used her scholarship to explore water quality issues in India. She was gracious enough to share her story and some pictures from her trip.
With packs strapped on our backs & plane tickets in hand, twelve CofC students set off for the great subcontinent of India; eager to immerse ourselves in the sights, smells and sounds of the Indian culture. The trip, very well organized and led by Dr. Timothy Callahan and Dr. Vijay Vulava, was focused on water quality issues in India; a topic that the people of northern India struggle with in their daily lives.
The first days of our trip were spent exploring the Delhi region, accompanied by Amberjade, CofC alumnus living in India. Awestruck by the vast differences in this culture from our own, we attempted to consume and comprehend our ever-stimulating surroundings (lest they consume us). The Delhi streets were filled with every mode of transportation we could have imagined (and some we could have not). Auto-rickshaws sped past motorcyclists who wove around buses, trucks, and waterbuffalo. Yes, waterbuffalo; sometimes pulling carts, sometimes being led across the street, almost always blocking traffic. The streets were lined with cows meandering and merchants selling goods, including fresh fruit, ladles of water, and Hindu offerings to the gods.
Although every day on this trip was unique and incredible, the highlight for me was hiking through the outer ring of the Himalayan Mountains. Keeping with the theme of our travels, we wound our way up from the city of Gangotri to multiple base camps with a goal to reach the Gomukh Glacier. The glacial meltwaters are the freshwater source for the great Ganges River and many of the smaller rivers that link in to the system. The 2-3 day hike up to the glacier brought us rocky trails that required careful footing; sometimes there seemed to be no trail at all. We passed barefoot Hindus making pilgrimage to the holy site, donkeys carrying packs and people, and were always surrounded by the extraordinary sites of the mountainsides. After 18 kilometers (about 11 miles) and at an elevation of 4,000 meters (over 13,000 feet), we finally experienced the awe and satisfaction that was to see the glacier.
Our trip ended with a trip to Calcutta and the Sundarbans, located along the northern coast of the Bay of Bengal. Sea-level rise and freshwater availability are two of the many major issues that affect the villages and communities living in this very important ecosystem. Traveling through the beautifully winding estuaries and rivers in the Sundarbans is the only way to move through this complex island system. We had the pleasure to meet with some of the local villagers and walk around markets selling everything from live, freshly caught fish to fruits and vegetables, some of which we had not seen before.
Overall this was an extraordinary experience! I have never packed so much into such a short period of time, and am grateful for our incredible leaders that provided us with a safe and exciting journey. To sum up those 18 days in anything less than a large, photo-laden journal is nearly impossible, so I must leave you with this: I walk away from this trip with a sense of awareness that I did not have before. I hope I can help others understand my experience, the sights, emotions and awe that we all felt, and to enlighten their thoughts as mine were.