After arriving in Dehradun on Saturday afternoon, our excursion began in earnest on Sunday. Unfortunately, this was also the day when a cold took over my entire body. To start the day, we drove out of the city and visited a school that catered specifically to Van Gujar children. The Van Gujars are a migrating community who live in the forest and sustain their livelihood by raising water buffalo. It was interesting to see how purposefully the curriculum was tailored to fit their experiences. On the way to our next location, we stopped for lunch. Just as we began to sit down, a mother and baby goat appeared in front of us. It turns out this baby had just moments earlier been born, and was now trying to take its first steps. This was the show we got to watch as we ate our meal.
Our next stop was to visit the Van Gujars in their village. We were invited into their home and given the chance to ask questions about their lives. There were countless adorable children, and many of us were struck by how beautiful their eyes were. As we left the house, I realized a puppy had stolen my shoe, and I had to wander around the village looking for it. (I found it).
The next day we stayed at the headquarters of our host organization, RLEK. The lectures were interesting, but I came very close to falling asleep with my eyes open as I sat bundled up in my sweatshirt Fortunately, all of my classmates were very kind and even offered to bring food back for me. The lecture I was most interested in (and awake for) was the two women that came to talk to us about empowering women through teaching them how to cast their vote in local village elections. I have really enjoyed seeing the ingenuity and creativity of those working to create change in their communities.
On Monday we checked out of RLEK. Our first stop of the day was a village outside of Dehradun. We met the female panchayat president of the village and talked to some other residents about the ins and outs of their community. They also got the chance to ask us some questions, which I always enjoy very much. Next we stopped at a local health center that gave supplements to pregnant mothers and worked to reduce malnourishment in children. We met some other community members there, including an older woman who loved to smile at us and touch our cheeks.
Later that day, we arrived at an organic farming center called Navdanya. The grounds were very beautiful, and equipped with plenty of gazebos and nicely ornamented yurts. Though the educational aspects of the experience left something to be desired, it was very therapeutic to finally be outside of the loud city and among wildlife instead. My favorite residents of Navdanya were two puppies who had come to live at the farm. On our first night at the farm hey both voluntarily climbed onto my lap and fell asleep. It was probably my favorite thing that happened all week, and truly filled a hole in my heart. There were also some very interesting people staying at the farm, including a few Irish women who entertained us with their highly accented storytelling.
On Thursday we arrived at Rishikesh, a favorite vacation spot of the Beatles, and were set loose. Rishikesh also happens to border the Ganges river, and thus draws plenty of spiritual tourism, both from inside and outside India. Though we were explicitly told not to bathe in the river (mainly due to issues of cleanliness), I stuck my hand in the holy water and then immediately applied sanitizer. After visiting the shore, we crossed a narrow suspension bridge being used by people, motorcycles, monkeys, and the occasional commuting cow. For lunch we ate at a café serving vegan pasta that was located on the grounds of an orphanage and school started by an American woman, and staffed by Scottish people and the children themselves. After walking through narrow winding pathways to get there, it felt like we were on another planet.
We arrived back in Jaipur by train early in the morning on Saturday. It was important that we were home by this time, because that night we were all invited to a wedding. So, after getting approximately seven minutes of sleep the night before, I got dressed up in my sari, (which was expertly wrapped by my host mom), and attended my first Indian wedding. We all arrived at the venue by rickshaw after getting ready together at the center. As the festivities weren’t scheduled to start for another few hours, we set to taking as many photos we could of everyone dressed in their nicest Indian clothing.
By the time the ceremony started and the groom’s side of the family arrived, it was already 10 o’clock. The groom arrived on an ornately decorated horse, and our job was to throw the rose petals. After the ceremony was finished, we finally got to eat dinner – which was delicious, of course. We didn’t leave until after eleven, and being the last stop on the rickshaw ride I didn’t get home until almost one, where I promptly fell into a deep, much needed sleep.
Until next time,
A tired farmer