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How a trip to India changed my life forever

 

This begins my story of India. It was a love story, nineteen years ago, flying half way around the globe to meet up with my American boyfriend, a short relationship that went bad after two weeks of travel together.  It was never in my thoughts to go to India.


When I found myself solo in India, I spun around in full circles for a few days, then finally decided to continue on my own.  With eyes almost closed and wanting to leave Mumbai, I chose one direction. 

“If you change your direction by one degree, you’ll go in a whole new direction”, a friend once said.”

My life was changed forever!  I keep returning to India.  Many times I have said the final goodbye.

On a late April morning, seventeen years ago, I was led to a barren desert land to meet some nomads.  A light wind was blowing across the sandy sculptured hills, and I remember the sinking feel of my steps as they pressed into the soft unlevel ground.  Up the barren landscape were hints of two nomadic communities.  One on the left and at a distant across, another on the right.  As my local Indian friend began leading me towards the tribal settlement on the right, I asked, “why this one?” He replied, they do not have anything.  They do not have an animal, like those people to the left.  He lead me to what he felt were the poorest people; a simple tented home with a handful of adults and four children.  He met them accidentally a few days back, as he went looking for a wandering dog.

Tea plantation
Tea plantation
A few days earlier, when I arrived in the adjacent Rajasthani town, I told my friend about my desire to donate to people in need.  I had entered India from the East, beginning in Calcutta, and now I was in the western state of Rajasthan two weeks later.  I had collected donations from generous friends back home, with my intention to do some good.  Only a small sum of $180 collected, but I had to complete my promise.
 
I have a visual memory of the white haired elderly woman, her glassy blue eyes which could no longer see.  With the stillness of accumulated years, she sat on a earth colored rug, grounded into the sand next to the open doorway.  She gazed into her senses and turned her head to greet us.  We took off our shoes to cross over a marked boundary that separated the outside world from the inside sand of sacred home space.  They had a canopy of nighttime stars and a daylight sky for a roof. The ground had small simple rugs for sitting.  The chief leader spoke of their current worries.  This vast area where they lived was purchased by a wealthy man in town.  He showed us their recently served eviction papers.  The nomad men worked for farmers as daily labourers.  They went early each day, but lately bad luck was in their favor and often they returned home with no work. With the last bits of their food staple, they ate only chapatis (bread).  The children were also given milk.
This woman's home garden
This woman's home garden

With the small amount of donated money, we purchased a large burlap sack full of vegetables and another with potatoes.  They had enough groceries to now last for a week.  We gave each member of the household a few rupee notes and there was still money left!  Surprisingly it was enough to rent two months in a basic India-style two room apartment near town.  A few good people from town offered opportunities for business with the wooden big-wheeled pushcarts you often see in India.

Harvesting fresh turmeric
Harvesting fresh turmeric

The young Indian friend who led me there, Amit, is someone I met on my first trip to India, the time I randomly chose one direction.  He went on to be a leader for discouraging the age-old practice of child marriage, and for promoting education for all girls.  Reaching out to outlying farming communities, his organized group brought free education with volunteer teachers.  In town, they started a school, housed girls, provided meals and basic medical care.  They have grown tremendously and now run a number of projects and schools for both boys and girls.

Village school
Village school

Many stories about local people fill my personal travel pages.  Most of my recent impressions are of South India, a garden paradise colourful picture book; ripe fruits hanging off trees, spice farms, waves of rice fields, gardens, a breath of tea-scented air while you walk through a pristine plantation.

I look forward to returning this November! Would you like to join her? Off the beaten path in South India, village stays.