Our flight into Ahmedabad was perfect. After a quick visit to Gandhi’s Ashram which was serene and really interesting, we made our way by bus to Udaipur (Rajasthan, NE India). Here, we will be volunteering with an NGO for two months before we spend a few weeks backpacking on the road to some spots around the country. We return to the UK on 23rd January.
Best Exotic Marigold Apartment
We have almost struck gold with our ‘Silver Moon’ apartment which is part of a “Haveli”, an old and traditional mansion, a bit like the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which was in fact filmed just a few kilometres away. Our apartment is very comfortable with fantastic air conditioning (which is needed for the 36 degree temperature), a TV with tons of Hollywood and Bollywood films (so much better than Netflix!), two comfortable bedrooms (family and friends are very welcome to visit and stay with us!) and a bathroom with a Western toilet! The only downside – and it’s a big one – is that there are 8 dogs right outside our Haveli and they howl at night. They start howling as soon as we decide to go to sleep! The noise is wild and often wakes us up once we have nodded off. Apparently, it’s a common feature everywhere here, so instead of moving apartment, we’ll probably just buy a gun (filled with water of course!). A much more pleasant noise arrives every morning to the tune of the garbage truck! It plays a song which is really cheesy but we love it – in fact, we do a little jig every morning when it arrives!
The town we are living in is variously described by journals and on tourist forums as stunning and beautiful, the ‘Venice of the East’. Hmmm. It is certainly nothing like Venice! It does have some beautiful parts to it, particularly some of its temples and of course its lakes – a hotel in the middle of one lake famously featured in the Bond film, Octopussy. Other parts however are rough, crowded and heavily polluted. Walking in the roads is always hazardous as we compete for space with the many rickshaws, motorbikes, cows and, on the odd occasion, even elephants. We are living in the middle of the old city, so we have more than our fair share of crowds and tourists, but we also have the advantage here of the best restaurants. Some of them have a wonderful view over the lakes and serve very fine food. A bit further away is the vegetable market which is magnificent: it feels great to be the only Westerners there as if we are seeing the real India, where the locals live and shop.
NGO – Seva Mandir
We kind of took a chance on our NGO from Google searches rather than personal recommendations, so we feel super lucky that everything worked out well as we are in fact volunteering with an amazing charity. Seva Mandir supports the rural communities around Udaipur. Support – education, health and so many areas – is given to 360,000 people across 700 villages. The charity in fact worked for many years with Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, who were announced just this week as winners of the Nobel Prize. We are really hoping to learn lots of things which we can take elsewhere in the world, starting in Ethiopia when we return there in March. We are working for Seva Mandir 6 days a week and travel to its offices in a rickshaw – not the most comfortable journey ever but we are always happy and thankful to arrive safely!
Jeff’s NGO Role – His Words!
My role is focused on one particular village Delwara which is 30 km from Udaipur. The village is stunning with a 700 year old Jain temple and lots of beautiful architecture. It barely features on the tourist map, so a big objective of mine is to promote a heritage walk which will support the local economy and provide an income to several young guides. The village also homes a large ‘fair trade’ workshop in which women stitch clothes that end up in some high end fashion stores. The workshop provides income for many women in the village, and that’s great, although I will be very keen to discover just how ‘fair’ the trades and incomes are.
Sylvie’s NGO Role – Her words!
My role is thankfully a very safe office job! It’s far too hot to work out in the field and thankfully, Jeff only needs to visit Delwara once a week. My role is to help edit Seva Mandir’s publications. It really helps me to get a good undestanding of the NGO’s importance, plus I do get the opportunity to see its amazing work with my own eyes. This week, Jeff and I visited a water management facility and got to meet lots of villagers. Apart from learning a ton of things, we had so much fun listening to school children reciting nursery rhymes, much more fun it felt than they had listening to our English nursery rhymes!
We will post again before we leave Udaipur. We are so excited about several things coming up soon:
– Starting yoga classes next week
– Diwali on 27th October
– Visits from several close friends
– Exploring a few nearby towns, famous for their forts and temples
– Hopefully making a difference in our jobs at Seva Mandir