With the season over, a few of Essendon’s young guns travelled to India to explore the sights and immerse themselves in Indian culture.
David Zaharakis, Dyson Heppell, Zach Merrett and Joe Daniher documented their #EmbracingIndia experiences for the Bombers’ website – from clinics with young school-children to exploring India’s landmarks.
The first couple of days were spent in Kolkata sightseeing and getting mobbed by a group of enthusiastic children while kicking the footy in a park around the Victoria Monument, before visiting an orphanage.
Heppell said he learnt plenty from his interactions with the children.
“It was a real eye-opener seeing how unfortunate some of these kids are,” the 2014 Best and Fairest winner said in his video diary.
“You get a real appreciation of how we live in Australia.”
On day two, the quartet took a footy clinic at a village on the border of Bangladesh, where they taught 200 children the skills of AFL.
Heppell was taken aback by the lengths some of the youngsters went to in order to attend the session.
“Some of the guys actually travelled around ten hours from right around India. We trek up the road to training… whereas some of these guys would have to ride their bike to the train for an hour, spend another hour on the train and then catch a bus to the local paddock where we trained.
“You don’t realise the hard yards these guys actually put in. It was absolutely outstanding how much they enjoyed the game and how much they wanted to work on their skills… especially some of the young girls. They were outstanding with their marking ability and how quickly they learn to kick a ball and handball.”
Another clinic followed as the players made their way to a school where they engaged in a half of soccer with the schoolkids, before putting the students’ new skills into practice with a game of Aussie Rules.
“We got to play a game of soccer for a half and we got touched up a bit by the locals,” Zach Merrett said in the second video diary.
“We received gifts and an Indian ceremony before presenting the principal with an Essendon jumper.
“We were blown away with the welcome we received from the St Francis school… we are very humbled and it was a great experience for us.”
Day seven consisted of travelling to Ranthambore, but a delayed bus sent a few of the Bombers into worry-mode before a five-hour train-ride took the players to their hotel in preparation for the following day’s safari.
David Zaharakis couldn’t have been more excited about the prospect of seeing a tiger in the wild, but the morning’s safari failed to deliver.
“There wasn’t any sighting or any sounds of a tiger. It was dead silent for three hours, so that was a bit unfortunate,” Zaharakis said.
“The boys’ spirits were a bit low in the morning but within about five minutes of our second safari in the afternoon, all of a sudden there were about ten trucks blocking the road.
“We realised there was a tiger within about 100 metres of the forest. Eventually we saw the tiger walk off to the right… and he came into our view. That was great fun and exciting.”
The second-last day saw the boys head out nice and early for a five-hour train and bus ride to their hotel in Agra, before setting off to visit one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal.
Only Heppell had previously seen the largest monument in India so, as Joe Daniher explained in the last video diary of the trip, the guys were pretty excited for the final stop of their trip.
“We couldn’t be more excited to see the Taj Mahal. You couldn’t do it justice with pictures… You see it on postcards but to see it in real life was something really special,” Daniher said.
“What a great way to cap off the beautiful trip we’ve had here in India.
“It’ll be sad to say goodbye to India. We’re really going to cherish this trip for a long time.”
Photo via Twitter – @EssendonFC