13. September 2013 15:23
Amanda Huggins is our final winner in our Adventures Start at Stanfords competition! Amanda shares her memory of a Rajasthani feast in the Thar Desert below...
I am reclining on bejewelled silk bolster cushions rather too close to the rear end of a flatulent camel. As our brightly decked cart rolls slowly through villages at the edge of the Thar desert, groups of children wave and shout as they give chase.
It is winter in Rajasthan, the early morning sunlight is still struggling to warm us through, and the villagers we pass are wrapped in grey wool blankets.
The landscape suddenly opens out, and we stop at the edge of shallow dunes stretching towards the horizon, dotted with hardy khejri trees. Our guide, Mr Singh, passes us binoculars as he points out a group of slender chinkara gazelle in the distance. Both the chinkara and the trees are revered by the local Bishnoi tribe, who are even known to bury dead gazelles and mark their graves. Bishnoi translates as twenty-niners, which refers to the number of principles they live by, two of which are to protect trees and ‘all living beings’. Their fierce affinity with nature, and their aggression in its protection since 1485, has led them to be thought of at the first environmentalists.More...
22. July 2013 10:00
by Jess Williams
Another train brought us into Udaipur where we had had the foresight to organise a personal auto-ricksaw to our hotel, so we were greeted at the station with a sign for “Jeffica.” The Jess/Jeff mix up is fairly common when ordering taxis but this was a new highlight of mistaken names. I wish I had had the foresight to get my camera ready for the event.
Anyway, we were dropped at Minewa hotel in time for a Christmas Party Skype conversation with our London flatmates on the beautiful roof terrace, complete with cushioned alcoves. We spent a lot of time on that roof the next few days, working our ways through all the flavours of lassi on the menu.
Other, more culturally stimulating highlights of the city were the palace and view of the floating palace from Octopussy. Octopussy is everywhere, and screened every evening at some hotels. We manage to avoid it in favour of flute lessons though, and a trip to a fancy 5 star hotel to see our flute teacher perform. Oh, how the other half live…
We were actually very busy in Udaipur, squeezing in an early morning horse ride, a yoga lesson, and a trip to a leather workshop where we gave specifications for a very particular satchel, to have it whipped up in front of us. It was posted home, stuffed full of Christmas presents.More...
21. June 2013 16:18
Author: Jess Williams
We had just a day in Delhi. Both of us live London so we weren’t particularly excited by big cities and I left with no great fondness of the place. This was down to a couple of factors. First, many Delhi hotels have bedbugs and ours was no exception. They appeared when it was too late to find somewhere better so it was an itchy night. Second, we had not toughened up and could not say no to a taxi tour of the city. We handed over money for the day and got taken to the best sights. The Red Fort was nice, and I particularly liked the squirrels that live there. They take nuts right from your hand. The place where Gandhi was assassinated would have been more interesting if we had known what it was: our guide did not think to tell us. In fact he was much more interested in taking us to shops. They have these bazaars, you see, where you are sold carpets and sarees and scarves and statues and jewellery and… and the taxi drivers get commission for taking us there. When we said we didn’t want to go to another shop, he got all grumpy and wouldn’t take us anywhere else. He wasn’t our friend.
The next day was the must see of India. Agra and the Taj Mahal. You must get sick of hearing it but people do not exaggerate about the Taj: it is simply breath-taking. It is a perfectly symmetrical, glowing white structure that seems to grow suddenly, halfway through the elegant gardens. A trusty audio tour give you the whole romantic story about a mourning husband who lost the love of his life. It is interesting that his is the bigger tomb though.
It’s not all awe and beauty though. A little comedy comes from the hordes of visitors walking around in baggy white socks, like a mop hat for the foot. May as well get the tourists to buff the marble: it’d cost a fortune otherwise.
And then there is the constantly bewildering fact that many people are more interesting in taking pictures of you than this stunning monument that is behind them. We somehow have several group photos with complete strangers. It was like being famous…it’s a hard life More...
10. June 2013 10:14
In the final post of her blog series on India, Isobel Wilson Cleary talk of the many perks of volunteering abroad.
All those places you want to go? There’s a very good chance you’ll be able to find a volunteer opportunity to suit you. Before I heard about Development in Action and Deep Griha Society, I’d never really thought about going to India. Now, I’m thinking of ways I can go back both to visit DGS and to all the places I didn’t get a chance to see!
No experience necessary
There is no specific skill set for volunteering. The most important skill to have is enthusiasm. Sure, DGS encourage specific skills to help with current projects that need technical skills they can’t find or afford locally, but with several programmes covering a range of awareness and education issues, I found there wasn’t much that couldn’t be put to good use one way or another if you’re willing. As a volunteer there is a certain level of faith people put in you, value is placed on your opinions and you’re encouraged to use your creative skills to suggest new ideas. At times this can be a little worrying as you’re not necessarily more qualified than the staff themselves, but it’s also quite exciting to brainstorm ideas and you can’t help but feel like the world is your oyster.
Moving somewhere new whether it’s to the next city or a thousand miles away is always going to be a challenge but there’s definitely a lot more to get your head around when you have to breach that language barrier, navigate through new social norms, (I miss eating with my hands!) and the big one.... Adjust to the difficult situations and realities the people you work with face everyday that are largely, not something you can relate to. You can’t change things overnight or even in a few months but you can contribute to the continued and sustained work local people are doing in these areas to help empower and build awareness in whatever area you’re working in. And let’s not forget, in spite of these difficulties...More...
15. May 2013 09:13
Jess Williams continues her blog series on India, travelling from Bodhgaya to the temples of Khajuraho, and on to Shimla, the old summer capital of the British Empire in India.
The next stop on our Great Indian Voyage was to Bohdgaya for all of a day. It’s not a big town but full of tourists and touts. However, there is a certain calm amidst it all. I guess that comes with Buddism, the serene stone face of the giant statue of Buddha (where we met a Burmese priest who was very excited to have his photo taken with us), and the sound of prayer wheels at the temple. This temple is the place where Buddha achieved enlightenment- I spent my time watching the fish. We’re on a similar level I think.
We were lucky enough to meet a young Nepali man who was visiting an orphanage he had helped set up. Mikku took us to meet the children of Elizabeth Children’s Home that evening. We were greeted by handshakes and a song. These kids have been taken in from the street and given an education and I felt very lucky to meet them. Mikku and his colleagues do such great work. To put it in the most clichéd way possible, I was humbled.More...
7. May 2013 12:02
In part 4 of her blog series on India, Isobel Wilson-Cleary talks us through the highlights of her stay in Delhi.
Delhi. It’s a big place and if like me, you’re only there for a few short days you maybe want to see some of its biggest hits. Not as large as megacity Mumbai but big enough that these are the highlights of what I got up to whilst I was there. (And definitely check out the metro system!)
If you’re interested in seeing the everyday reality for many in India...
Chandi Chowk should be top of your list. Boasting the Jama el Masjid and Red Fort which brings in busloads of tourists it is also the sight of a major Jain temple (with a bird sanctuary!) and gurdwara - a little microcosm of India in a few square miles. More people than you’d ever imagine crammed in such a small space wandering the streets is an experience not to be missed - try some street food; engage in some bargaining if something catches your eye (and it probably will the market is impressive) and pay the extra to go up the minaret (signs tells you women and children must be accompanied by a male) and see where you’ve just come from, it’s pretty hard to believe that this is some people’s everyday.More...
25. April 2013 12:48
Maybe it wasn’t an obvious choice of first destination for a couple of first time travellers who like their home comforts, but actually Kolkata was not the terrifying culture shock people warned us about. Yes, we walked out of the airport to find a road made virtually uncrossable by unpredictable yellow taxis; we took said taxi in a seat-clutching ride across town seeing people cycling with boxes of chillies on their heads and live chickens tied to their handlebars; we were greeted in the streets by mothers begging for milk powder and packs of yellow dogs and men sleeping on the pavements. Yes, it was a million miles away, but amid this melee of people and smells and confusion, we found a city of incredibly beautiful buildings and parks, some of the best street food of the trip, and so many smiling faces: a girl who taught us Indian classical dancing in the Victoria Memorial gardens, a couple of street kids who we shared a lassi with, parents and children shaking ours hands at a Kali festival we happened to catch.
It wasn’t just that Kolkata allowed us to jump into another culture headfirst, it also allowed us to meet other travellers, get advice, make plans. There is definitely a district for travellers, and lucky for us, most of them had been around for a while. Trains were all explained, haggling (although we never really mastered that), the head wobble. We ended up travelling with a guy we met on the first day for three weeks. Really (and I hate to admit it) it does help to have a man around in India. They just get more respect. Annoying but true.
From Kolkata it was an overnight train to Darjeeling. The trains are really something. The queues for the tickets are utterly bewildering, but as long as you stand your ground as aggressively as everyone else pushes it shouldn’t take too long! The train itself is the best place to meet people. There’s always one man who takes charge of the conversation. Warning- he is usually the one that snores the loudest. You can buy everything under the sun. On that first train journey we counted 33 items that you could purchase, including yo-yo, statues of Ganesh, and nail clippers.More...
18. April 2013 16:55
In the third post of her blog series on India, Isobel Wilson Cleary heads to Amritsar for Diwali.
Taking a last minute trip North to spend Diwali with the family of another volunteer who live in Delhi was one of the highlights of my time in India and a lot of that is thanks to the quick weekend getaway we did further North to the Punjab which I’d definitely recommend as a slightly less trodden tourist path than the Golden Triangle or Kerala.
Diwali is the biggest festival of the year in India and the fanfare to which it arrives reminded me a lot of the pomp and circumstance Christmas enjoys here in the Europe and the U.S.A. Not simply because it seems to be celebrated by everyone regardless of religion. Along with the luxury selection of chocolates and nuts at pride of place in supermarket entrances we also learnt that just like home, there is very real possibility that suddenly travelling is a much costlier affair than you might first have thought.
Train ticket costs do go up but they’re still very reasonable for the distance and length of time you actually spend on them. If like me you’re unsure of where you’re going, who you’re going with or when exactly you are going then there’s the distinct possibility that you won’t be able to find any tickets at all. I’d heard that you really needed to get a head start if you wanted trains and I foolishly assumed a month prior was enough time. Around Diwali this simply isn’t true, there weren’t any available tickets except for the frantically last minute TatKal quota (which is quite like ebay-sniping and requires high-speed internet, something not in abundance where I was) or the possibility of tourist quota where you find out the day before whether you actually have tickets or not.
Safe to say we decided booking the flights to Delhi was the more costly but sensible option. In the end it was about the same cost as a cheap flight from the UK to Europe and there’s no need to pay extra to check baggage in with a generous 20kg limit! More...
2. April 2013 16:45
In the second part of her blog series on volunteering in India, Isobel Wilson Cleary talk of her first impressions as she settles in and adjusts to local culture.
After a couple of months in Pune I’d settled into some semblance of a routine, which despite what the guidebook says is anywhere between 3 and 5 hours away from Mumbai depending on traffic, day of the week and how the driver of your vehicle is feeling. The oddest experience for me was the utter lack of culture shock which everyone always talks about. I had a disquieting sense of comfort that I’d been here for months already; It’s easy to feel like you’ve lived a lot in only a short day but therein lies India’s charm (and the reason why it’s taken me so long to update you all on my time there!)…
Both a recognised time zone and a way of being, Indian Standard Time can leave you feeling frustrated and working with a non-profit this was quite difficult to adjust to. Projects and ideas can take weeks to be mentioned and seriously discussed... Or they can be sprung on you mere hours (or minutes!) before an event. On my third day I was asked to attend a fundraising event to provide people with information on the work Deep Griha does should they ask, at this point I didn’t have the finer points memorised, I hadn’t even seen all the locations but it certainly started a trend that I actually became quite fond of. With all the other struggles faced on a daily basis, it’s no wonder that a lax attitude to time management extends to all aspects of life; orders at a café/restaurant/bar, meeting friends, supposedly scheduled festivals and events, booking taxis…No plans are safe from Indian Stretch Time so you may as well embrace the maxim that things happen when they happen. Let’s face it, you’ll be a lot happier with the result.
Before my arrival in India I found Lonely Planet’s Indian English book a highly amusing concept but I have since discovered that Hinglish is very real and as legitimate as any other form of English spoken around the globe, it’s definitely much more fun. There’s a moment in English Vinglish - one of the Bollywood hits of Autumn last year featuring the comeback of a popular actress, Sridevi - where her character is coming through US passport control and can’t quite catch the accent.More...
17. October 2012 13:45
What's it like to go on holiday with your mum? Charlie Gilbert travelled to northern India with his to find out.
Destination: northern India. Travel companion: my mum. Why India? Why my mum? Well, my granny was born and schooled on the subcontinent, so the pair of us wanted to explore our recent family ancestry first-hand. Thanks to a well-timed grouping of bank holidays, we jumped on a plane to Delhi to begin our adventure.
Now, I'm quite an unlucky traveller. During my last few holidays I've missed flights, been robbed by child gangsters and snowed in at train stations. Last time I was in India, I was hospitalised for five days with amoebic dysentery and run over by a motorbike. It's fair to say my mum was a little nervous before any butter chicken had graced her palate.
First stop Delhi, a somewhat curious city. Curious because the Indian capital has a remarkable ability to function on a day-to-day basis despite the relentless mayhem of energy-sapping heat, traffic horns, scam artists, lung-clogging pollution and a superbug-infested water supply (which, fortunately, has long since cleared up). It's genuinely fascinating, but after two days the insides of your nasal passages turn black, you can drink a two-litre bottle of water in five seconds without your thirst being quenched and, most infuriatingly, you begin to lose faith in humanity. More...