In the evening, we visited a cultural city where we enjoyed shopping and exploring the Chokhi Dhani Village, an Indian food valley. We were enthralled by the cultural displays of dancing, magic, metal shaping, and the traditional making of Indian bread. After that, we savoured a vegetarian meal, which was an unforgettable experience for all cadets. The food was exquisite and flavourful, even though some dishes were quite spicy.
The following day, we visited the Jantar Mantar observatory, which showcased the astronomical knowledge of ancient India. We were fascinated by the sundial, which could tell time with an accuracy of two seconds. After that, we visited the famous Hawa Mahal, a five-story red and pink sandstone palace. The palace was specifically designed for royal women to observe the city and its people without being seen themselves. The history and story behind its construction were remarkable, which added to the experience. Later, we went to Amber Fort and received a great tour where we heard a fascinating story about King Mansing and his 12 wives. It was interesting to learn how he kept each wife in separate apartments within the fort, with exclusive access granted only to him.
Finally, we visited Jaipur Cottage Industries, where we witnessed a demonstration of traditional block painting techniques using vegetable-based colours, as well as carpet-making. After browsing and purchasing some souvenirs, we enjoyed refreshments of Lassi and Kachori. We then had a midday meal at The Pink City restaurant, where we were presented with flower garlands known as Welcome Necklaces made from fresh flowers, ending a remarkable and unforgettable day.
Agra was the final sightseeing destination, and it was certainly worth the wait. The city is famous for its two UNESCO World Heritage Sites - the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal.
As I explored Agra Fort, I was captivated by its various palaces, gardens and courtyards, each with a unique story and engineering marvels such as the cooling system designed to regulate the temperature. Then, the Taj Mahal, an iconic symbol of India, stood before me, a beautiful white marble mausoleum built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. A true masterpiece of Mughal architecture, featuring impressive symmetry, detailed designs, and towering minarets. Exploring the Taj Mahal was not only a visual treat but also an intriguing experience. The sheer precision and attention to detail were astonishing, especially hearing about the recurrence of the number 22 in its structure. The 22 steps leading to the main floor, the 22 small domes, the tomb's height of 22 yards above the ground level, and the Taj Mahal's diameter of 22 meters are said to symbolise spiritual and mystical concepts. It was fascinating to unravel the possible hidden meanings behind the monument's design, leaving me with a deeper appreciation of its cultural significance.
During our sightseeing trips, I had the pleasure of bonding with fellow cadets from the USA and Mongolia, as we always travelled with the same coach. As we travelled from one destination to another, we shared our experiences with cadets and formed a close bond. We even had a fun time singing together in the coach, which made the journey even more enjoyable. These friendships I made with cadets from all over the world added to the diversity of my experience and are cherished memories that will always hold a special place in my heart.
After the sightseeing ended, we had scheduled cultural presentations. Every delegation from the 32 countries had the opportunity to showcase their unique culture and traditions. this included giving a presentation about their youth organisation and performing a traditional national dance. Our delegation was no exception, and we proudly presented the ACF to all the contingents, including NCC cadets. We performed the Scottish dance, strip the willow. It was an amazing experience to see so many different cultures coming together and sharing their traditions. We all gained a greater understanding and appreciation of each other’s customs and heritage.
The exchange included also many military events, which were a memorable and exciting part of the programme.
As part of the military events, we had the honour of meeting the Directorate General of NCC cadets, Lt Gen Gurbirpal Singh, the commander of all the NCC. We marched on the NCC camp’s parade ground and had the pleasure of having a few words with him. Additionally, we were invited to his residence as part of the programme where we were able to interact with many NCC cadets. I still keep in contact with the cadets I met on that day, and the experience remains memorable.
We also had the honour of meeting the Prime Minister and President of India at their residencies. When visiting the Prime Minister, he addressed the NCC, NSS and Youth Exchange cadets along with cultural Volunteers from around India with inspirational words. He also praised the NCC cadets for their dances and stunning performances which introduced the evening. Along with all of the other delegations we managed to take a picture with the prime minister and the esteemed guests including, the ministry of defence of India. Our delegation had the luck to be in the front rows so we were able to witness the whole event with a great view. The following day we went to the residence of the President. Here, we contemplated NCC cadets singing the national anthem and the NCC song. Afterwards, we took pictures with her along with some other delegations. I must say, the residence of the President is a quite masterful piece of architecture. Having met the head of state, was a delightful experience that I will always remember.
We then attended the Republic Day Parade and the Prime Minister Rally and which was quite a privileged. The Prime Minister Rally was a momentous occasion where every delegation marched on Cariappa ground to inaugurate the inception of the 75th year of raising the National Cadet Corps of India (NCC). It was an honour for our contingent to be representing the UK and the Army, marching on the parade ground whilst being on live national television. The Prime Minister then gave a speech and presented the best cadet awards to NCC cadets, making it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
During the Republic Day Parade, we witnessed the Indian regiments march down Kartavya Path along with their latest defence equipment, including their most advanced BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles and the Quick Reaction Fighting Vehicles. The Indian Air Force's Surya Kiran aerobatics demonstration team performed breath-taking stunts, showcasing an array of vintage and modern aircraft, however, the ones that stood out the most to me were the Su-30 MKI fighter jets that flew in a 'Trishul' formation.
In conclusion, the trip to India was an unforgettable experience, one that I will cherish for a lifetime. From the breathtaking architecture to the cultural displays, we were able to experience the rich history and culture of India. The friendships we made during the trip were a true highlight, and it was heartwarming to see how the shared experiences brought us all closer together. Overall, this trip was a perfect blend of adventure, culture, and camaraderie, and I am grateful for the opportunity and being a part of it. I was honoured to be representing the UK during the celebrations that took place and do not regret anything, except the flight back home. I wish I was still there and promised myself to go back someday. I cannot captivate the full experience within an article but only a snapshot. I hope this is an incentive for people to visit India, and flavour its true beauty.