The idea that began in our minds a few years back started taking shape in 2013 and when we started Science Gupshup, a monthly interaction with scientists of TIFR,' BARC and Nehru Science center in 2013. I realized that students displayed a huge interest in these space activities and they had very curious questions on space and NASA programs. The conviction that we need to plan a real trip to NASA became stronger with each passing month and finally after a lot of deliberations and meetings with prospective tour organizers we found Adventure tours and seeing the background and research on their experience we got confidence that we can manage a travel program with students of junior college.
Thereafter began the exercise and the response we got after announcing the program was overwhelming. The doubts vanished and we saw a new enthusiasm among students as they came to know about the details. The role of the management, President Sri Satish Dattani for encouragement and particularly, Sri Mahesh Chandarana, Sri Naveen Sampat and Sri R.K. Sheth, to finalize the financial aspect and freeze on the package that was par excellence was also a part. The deal included the procedures of passport, preparation of documents for visa, mock interviews for visas, transportation for visa to and fro, all travel, boarding in 4 star hotels, food, entry fees of all places in itinerary and shopping. I realized later that several activities not included in itinerary were also included by Mr. Shahrukh and Mr. Bezad Shroff of Adventure Tour on the spot assessing the immediate situations. For example as we landed in New York, we were in for a surprise when we stood before Madame Tussads museum which was not a part of our itinerary. Also the very favoured Apple store and Madison square park, to name a few were enlisted in our itinerary.
The first pleasant news arrived when all except four students got visa for 10 years, out of these four, three reapplied and two of them got through. So here we were with 44 students and 5 teachers, ready to board Air India flight AI 191with 44 pair of excited eyes with dreams of going to a land 13000 kms away beyond oceans, about which they have always read in books and watched in movies. Looking at them, a strange feeling engulfed me. Will my team of teachers live up to their expectations? Will this be a successful and memorable trip? And will all be happy at the end of it? It was a huge responsibility taking all these young ones on such a long trip to a very faraway nation and in some corner of my heart I was very scared, but kept a brave front. On 12th May, we got a warm welcome aboard Air India flight, a welcome announcement, a cake cutting before landing at the Newyork airport and special care through the flight for us.
All went very smoothly, procedures of immigration at Newyork and breakfast at the airport given by Mr Shahrukh and we were all in the bus, with Mr Celvin as our driver for the next 5 days in New York, Washington DC, Niagara Falls and Buffalo airport. I must salute the patience he exhibited during these five days, at all stops, waiting for us when any one didn’t arrive at the designated time, in the apple store, at Times Square, and patiently waiting and doing rounds at the no parking zones with a very professional attitude. a great learning. Traffic situations at New York are somewhat similar to Mumbai but what a difference in attitude of people? No honking, no lane cutting, no frustration displayed. I’m sure students were surprised pleasantly. New York was amazing after Madame Tussads, we went to the empire state building at 86th floor and saw beautiful breathtaking view of Manhattan from there, everything was all picture perfect wherever you turn your eyes to. The challenge would be to get all the students back when asked.
But I admit that all came back in time whether it was a crowded place like Statue of Liberty, Times Square which was very crowded, but we all were quite disciplined. This added to effective implementation of the trip program. Birthdays were celebrated on 2 days. Aishwarya Nair at Chipotle, a Mexican food joint and another on 20th, of Rahul at Sheraton hotel with cake cutting and DJ, arranged with special permission of Hotel authorities by extra payment. The students behaved very well every where even at the Times Square when they were left free for shopping, coming back to bus in time always. We made an unplanned stopover at the highway as students wanted to, and had snacks and drinks. The Jain student Zeal Shah was specially treated throughout with special Jain Food. Let us look at the detailed tour day by day, place by place...