India 2012-2013
Hello! I will be traveling to Udaipur, India, located in the northeastern state of Rajasthan to work with a local NGO, Jargran Jan Vikas Samiti. I'll be assisting them with their structure, fundraising, and any other role they need me to play. Watch this space for upcoming experiences and adventures! Read More About Brent →


What will my impact be?”

This question is one that weighed on my mind throughout the entire time I was in Udaipur. The impact could be the work I completed for Jagran, an organization that has an advanced understanding of what sustainable social impact can look like.  Or it could be in how I present myself, my responses, values, and motivations; all of which become extensions of the United States since that is what I am seen to represent in this context. The latter aspect alone can have major implications considering that Americans are treated with very high regard in the country.
Now that I have been back in the United States for a little over 2 weeks now, I’ve decided that it is all of these things and more. You can never really know the extent of your impact, which is not always as widespread as you expect it to. When you travel for any type of purpose, the greatest amount of change will occur within yourself as an individual. The experiences you have and the people you meet will stay in your mind for the rest of your life. Traveling with a purpose will always best be quantified by the changes that occur in your life because it’s extremely difficult to accomplish the extremely high goals we set for ourselves when we start out.


As I mentioned in my last post, I sent in a proposal to a potential funder for the microfinance program. I found out on Monday, December 10th that the proposal was accepted, and the organization was approved for a major loan from an Indian-based organization. While this wasn’t the outcome I had expected when I began the internship, it is something I had never expected to be able to achieve within this time frame. And for that I have to thank the people who were most responsible for enabling this accomplishment.

First off, I want to thank the Lumos Foundation for funding the trip and providing me with this life changing opportunity. Also, I wish to thank everyone I met and became friends with in India; my time in India would not have been as fulfilling without you all. Last (and far from least) I would like to thank all of my family and friends in the US who continued to give me mental support even though we were half a world apart.

I’ll end on a quote from the author Tahrir Shah that I feel does an adequate job of attempting to summarize the impact India has made on my own life.

 “Time spent in India has an extraordinary effect on one. It acts as a barrier that makes the rest of the world seem unreal.”


Pachanga Boys- “Time”

As of today, I have 10 days remaining in India, and it’s not enough time. Not enough time to complete all of the concepts the people at Jagran have suggested for me to work on, to spend more time in the villages the organization works in, to visit all the places in Rajasthan and India that I would like to see, to eat at all of the best Indian street food stands, to read all of the amazing books at Shikshantar or to master yoga and meditation like I “knew” I would at the beginning of my trip. But it’s as Papa-Ji, my host father and one of the wisest people I have met in my nearly 23 years, told me, “Time has no barrier”.


About halfway through this trip, I knew 3.5 months was too short of a time to spend in India. In general, life does not operate at Western speed; this is one of the most frustrating cultural adjustments to make for volunteers/interns, especially when you are on a limited time frame. I’ve experienced it, and seen other interns go through it as well. Some things take more time to do here. Fortunately, projects do get accomplished at JJVS.


This week, I completed and submitted a proposal to a funder for additional financing towards Jagran’s microfinance program. Though my original motivation to come here was to work on a clean water project, I’ve been able to be involved in something bigger. JJVS’ microfinance program is in its 5th year and has provided loans to nearly 1,000 different entrepreneurs, farmers, fishermen, etc. It has made an amazing impact in the villages where it has been implemented by stimulating the local economy with more sustainable, efficient agricultural processes and allowing local area shops to expand the number of products they can offer. Not only have the loans been able to develop the livelihood generation activities of people in the village areas, but it has drawn many of the communities closer through the Joint-Liability Group methodology or JLG. In this methodology, borrowers are split into groups of 4-6 individuals, and the group, as a whole, is responsible to ensure all payments are made on time. Because Jagran has been active in these communities for such a long time and no one wishes to bring financial burden on their neighbors, this methodology has been extremely successful in every community. How successful? The organization has had a 100% recovery rate on every loan in the 5-year life of the program. And if my proposal is accepted, the outreach of the program will more than double. Time will tell.


The view from one of the temples in Bedla (where JJVS is located) at sunrise


Camels, Lights, Babus, and more!

The best laid schemes of mice and men go often awry, and leave us nothing but grief and pain, for promised joy!” –Robert Burns


Of all of the lessons India has taught me in the past three months of my life, patience and acceptance of your plans not always working out the way you thought they would have been the one constantly reinforced into my mind in this massive classroom with 1.6 billion other classmates. For some, this lesson justifies their belief that planning is unnecessary as it is likely to not go as planned anyway; I disagree with this type of thinking. Based on my experiences here in India, I’ve found it’s best to create a general idea of what you want to accomplish and different methods to do so, and then adjust to any black swans that come your way. Plan for the unexpected without letting that idea overwhelm you.


I relearned this concept in the past week when I traveled to New Delhi, Ajmer, and Pushkar, a quick 6 day trip which felt like much longer. I decided to leave the “small” (500,000 population) city of Udaipur and head to where the action was, Delhi, specifically to see a concert by Swedish House Mafia and explore this metropolis of 15 million people (20 million during the business day). So on Saturday evening, November 17, I left on a bus from The Lake City with my fellow traveler, Swedish-Indian, maternal-health guru, Mandira. After the 12-hour obligatory bumpy-bus ride, we arrived in New Delhi at 6 am and eventually made our way from one side of Delhi to the Bed and Breakfast we booked to stay. According to my sources (Wikipedia), New Delhi is 600 square miles, and we got off the bus on approximately the opposite side of Delhi. Fortunately, there was an Indian student from Udaipur who was nice enough to share a rickshaw with us and help us get to where we needed to be. After a quick 30-minute ride to South Delhi and a breakfast discussion on the problems of population and capitalism with the husband of the family who owned the Bed and Breakfast, we were ready for Delhi. (Note: The majority of these pictures are from Mandira since she had a good camera vs my iPod so thank her for the majority of the  visuals in this post)

President’s House

Delhi Gate


One of Mandira’s friends had a friend, TJ, who was studying/playing polo in Delhi had offered to show us around and take us to the concert. We met him at Khan Market and from there we went to see the President’s house and Delhi Gate. Both were absurdly large and were very popular Sunday lounging destinations as there were a number of people hanging out enjoying the sun on the massive, green lawns near the Gate. We hung around his place for a bit then off to see Swedish House Mafia! Which looked a little bit like this and was incredible:


No, those aren’t chicken feathers. It’s confetti and it was insane.



Once the concert was over, there was a mass exodus to leave the area, which was basically a future industrial construction site aka a very flat space with lots of sand. Now imagine 20,000 people leaving there simultaneously with no one officially directing them. Needless to say, it took some time (at least an hour, but felt like the length of my adolescence, so many lessons in patience here) to get out and get back to TJ’s place. At that point it was pretty late, which meant floor sleeping.

This is us “leaving” the concert


The next day we wandered back to the Bed and Breakfast (via the Delhi Metro, which is the nicest light rail I have ever been on. Though I did spend it in the women’s compartment on accident, which no one informed me until the stop before we got off. Oops) and rushed to get ready as we were going to meet a family friend of Mandira’s and a friend of hers, Trina and Arita, who also had offered to show us around the city. They managed to show us Old Delhi (Chandi Chowk, Jama Masjid, Outside of the Red Fort), the Tibetan Colony, and Hauz Khas (trendy area in South Delhi that could have easily been an East Nashville neighborhood) all within the span of about 5 hours or so. It was definitely the best way to see Delhi (Shoutout to Trina and Arita for showing us around the city).  Then came a sprint (again via the metro) from South Delhi where we ate dinner with Trina’s family back to Old Delhi to catch the train from Old Delhi Station to Ajmer.


Jama Masjid, Old Delhi

Silver Street in Old Delhi. Almost all of the shops here exclusively sold silver products

We arrived in Ajmer at 6:00 AM and met up with two German interns also based in Udaipur, Konstantin and Katja who had been hanging around the station for about an hour. As nothing opens before 9 (usually 10) in Rajasthan, we all went to Dargah Sharif, a mosque located in central Ajmer, and were rushed around from one place to another for an hour or so. We followed a priest who was doing his best to explain everything to us while navigating the mass of people who were going from one place to the next in the mosque. Very interesting to see the different ways people worship which ranged from bowing with cupped hands to reciting prayers to giving money to being blessed underneath a holy cloth. Also eating flowers is part of that as well, so had a morning brunch of two pink flowers.


What’s left of the Fort at the top of the mountain in Ajmer


Since we wanted to spend a bit more time Ajmer, we took a jeep up a steep, slaloming road up to the ruins of Taragarh Fort and to another Dargah, which was once again guided by another priest. Unfortunately, there isn’t much left of the Fort, so we explored a bit of the ruins there. I climbed an old fence, which turned out to lead to the local police station. After chatting with them a bit and a polite decline of their offer for chapattis, we went back down the hill and took transport to Pushkar (a holy city), for the Pushkar Camel Fair, an annual event where tourists come from all over to see the 1,000+ camels that come to the area to be sold and traded.

So. Many. Camels

Camel Family Picture

Pushkar, located in the Aravelli Range, is only 11 km from Ajmer, and between that distance, the driver decided to change his mind about exactly where he would take us and tried to drop us off a ways from our hotel. When he realized we weren’t going to pay him the ridiculous, additional price he was trying to charge, he started driving a bit faster and ignoring things like bumps in the road. End result, Mandira ended up getting a concussion (probably, we didn’t get a proper diagnosis). Yelling ensued, the man sheepishly apologized, then dropped us off about half a kilometer from our guesthouse, outside of the amazing Pushkar Lake Palace. The owner was an incredibly nice man who invited us to sit down for chai and to let Mandira rest. Long story short, we ended up staying there at a very good price. Then, within 30 minutes of arriving, they had already booked and arranged a camel safari for us in two hours. Honestly, they are the nicest people I have ever met, and if you ever find yourself in Pushkar, I can highly recommend the Pushkar Lake Palace.


The amazing Pushkar Lake Palace

View from the Lake in Pushkar with loads of birds

Once we were settled, we went off and saw Jagatpita Brahma Mandir, one of the few temples dedicated to Brahma. This was another semi-stressful speed walk around a holy site constantly trying to avoid stepping on and being stepped on by people while taking in everything that is going on.

Then came the Camel Safari! It was a decent tour of the desert and where the camels were beginning to arrive for the fair. I learned camels average between 20-25 years of life. The one I was riding was 10 years old and was in no hurry to see the desert he had walked around many times before (can’t blame him for that).

My Camel for the ride, Monita (or something like that)


The next day we woke up bright and early (5 am) to catch the sunrise from the top of one of the nearby mountains that had a temple dedicated to one of Brahma’s wives. Then we ran down (literally) and went to the main festival area as the festivities were beginning. Despite arriving an hour late, the first event, a group dance was just beginning. Following that was a very short camel race and a soccer match between foreigners and locals. More wandering to see things at the fair and shopping until a Hindu ceremony on the lake in the evening. It was incredible. In most of the 52 ghats (gates) surrounding the lake, there were tons of candles, and people praying. Rounding out the whole ceremony was a large firework display.

Sunrise over Snake Mountain/Aravelli Range

This little girl did some insane moves on the tightrope.Very talented.

First Night of the Pushkar Fair Celebration


Thanksgiving morning. I can safely say this was the most nontraditional Thanksgiving I have ever had. Once again, we woke up early and got in a sputtering rickshaw that took us to see the Aloo Baba (Rough English translation: Potato-Eating Elderly Hindu Man) Every morning, the Aloo Baba wakes up and feeds the many peacocks who come visit him, but unfortunately, we missed this because our rickshaw was struggling to make it up the small hills to his house. He made us some lemon tea, then we went and walked around a Shiva temple and climbed a tree that was over 200 years old.


The Aloo Baba’s Ashram. (Didn’t get any pictures of him, but for a man who only eats potatoes, he’s in good shape)


200+ Year old tree that will you can swing on even if you are a “full-sized” American man.


On our way back to Pushkar proper, the rickshaw decided it had had enough and actually broke down. Surrounded by desert, peacocks, monkeys, and random Hindi movie shoots, we were limited in options. Eventually, the driver gave up on trying to save his vehicle and called someone to come pick us up and tow his rickshaw (which also ended up not working). More wandering around the fair and hanging out with camels. Then it was time to bid Pushkar adieu. So we hopped on our pre-booked taxi to Ajmer where our bus to Udaipur was waiting for us. After more bumpy roads and one bus breakdown, we pulled into Udaipur at 5am. After doing the 5 to 8 km walk back to my house through empty Udaipur streets (no autos were running yet), I had a couple of hours of proper sleep before going into work to meet and do some Hinglish translating for a group of Finnish funders who are visiting JJVS to review the current state of their programs (more on that in the next post!)

The travelin crew on the last day.
L to R: Me, Konstantin, Vivek (Owner of Hotel), Katja, and Mandira





Today is the Hindu holiday of Diwali/Deepavali or Festival of Lights, a celebration for a number of major events in the Hindu religion. Officially, it is a 5-day festival featuring a lot of lights, fireworks, fairs, music, and sweets, and most schools take 10 days off for the celebration (We are taking 2 or 3). People and businesses around Udaipur have set up various levels of decoration including drawing numerous designs on the street, and lights ranging from large LEDs to flashing lights to simple candles used to welcome the goddess Lakshmi. It is a holiday where many people will travel to see their family and extended family; one of the days is specifically dedicated to siblings spending time together.  Even this morning, after being bombarded last night, I was awoken to the melodious sounds of dynamite-strength fireworks being exploded right outside my door to the excitement of many children. The fireworks are definitely a highlight; especially since the most popular ones here are illegal in the US due to the strength and volume of them.


There are a few similarities between Diwali and Christmas. One of the most interesting ones is that people will buy gifts for themselves in a sort of celebration of prosperity related to the end of the harvest season throughout most of India. A friend of mine at work told me around Diwali businesses typically will sell 5,000 two wheelers (motorcycles) and 1,000 four wheelers (cars/jeeps), just in Udaipur. Though some people do follow the belief that “it is better to give than to receive” and distribute Diwali gifts for their family and friends. Besides cars, people will make other large purchases and consume A LOT of sweets. Can’t really stress this enough. People love Gulab Jamun and other similar looking/tasting sweets here, which is a small round, brown ball that feels like a massive injection of sugar directly into your blood stream. Needless to say, they’re pretty good.


Work is getting busier now that I have a more comfortable, casual repoire with people at the organization. I have started to expand my focus from just researching funding organizations and writing proposals to developing JJVS’ annual report as well as writing content and SEO suggestions for their website. I have been very lucky to be able to work with the organization in a number of different ways, and they are always very helpful whenever I need anything, including a lesson on how to make chai, which is a lot easier than I anticipated (though my first two attempts have not quite been true Indian Level Chai)


I’m currently preparing for a trip to New Delhi and Pushkar next week. In Pushkar, there is massive camel fair all next week where people and pilgrims from all around the world come to see the 1,000 of camels, other animals, and various ceremonies taking place. So next post might be a bit late, but definitely worth the wait.



Dusherra and Desert

I definitely chose the right time to come to India, as it is “festival season”. They have a very different mindset for many of their religious festivals/holidays than Westerners; it’s more like Columbus Day. Almost everyone still goes to work (except for government employees, banks, and sometimes schools/universities), except for the upcoming Diwali where I am told almost no one works for 3 to 5 days.

From October 15th-23rd, the festival of Navratri has been going on, which is a Hindu festival where they honor various goddesses and people are fasting (they eat one meal in the evening). Though, I was traveling for most of Navatri, I did get to see Papa-Ji and Mama-Ji complete the traditional prayers, ring the bell, and blow the goat’s horn one night, very cool.

On the 10th day, it is Dusherra. The reason for celebration is based on a Hindu tradition where good has triumphed over evil, which they celebrate by burning an effigy representing the physical embodiment of evil.(I got the entire epic from Papa-ji; however, I’ll only give this very short version here) Since I had been gone for 10 days, I went in to work still, but I was the only one there for most of the day. While I sat at my desk working on a proposal due in one week (doing my daily routine of slowly moving my computer around my desk trying to find a spot where the Internet work, very similar to a doctor trying to find a heartbeat), I heard hoards of people walking by, drums pounding Dutch house rhythms, and a general air of excitement. While celebrations occurred all around the town, the main celebrations in Udaipur were held in the stadium near Chetuk Circle. I went with two close friends, and we showed up right at the end to see the large wooden structures where the effigy was smoldering into ash. (Sorry, all I have is my iPod touch for a camera, meaning no pictures where you can actually tell what is happening)


After coming back from a trip to Happinezz (best ice cream in Udaipur), I was held up by some of Udaipur’s nightlife. Namely, hundreds of sheep being herded down the main road of the city at 11 pm, holding us up for about 8 minutes. This is one of the reasons why I love India.

In general, things are going very well here. I’m busy working on a variety of different things for the organization. There are some new volunteers at Jagran so I am doing a bit of “coordinating” for that as well. I just returned from a two-night stay with the two new volunteers in the Jagran field office at Vali. First, we went to the field office in Jaisamand, which is home to Dhebar Lake, Asia’s 2nd largest man made lake, which has 52 villages surrounding it. After spending some time looking at the fish, elephant statues, and a photoshoot with the driver came a very beautiful drive to Vali.


View of Dhebar Lake

One of the Lake Shore views.

We were lucky enough to have a full moon that night for two reasons. First the power was out in the village and we needed the light to see. But also because certain places in india have a type of celebration where many people from the community gather around to sing songs, play different musical instruments, and drink lots of chai to celebrate the full moon. In Vali, it was hosted by one of the Jagran coordinators who packed his house very full and made sure we had a good time there.

The next day, we saw a number of different projects Jagran is running in the village, and I got a chance to practice my remedial Hindi. Still not conversational yet, but definitely getting a strong start. At least, I can tell people I want food now.

A caravan of camels

Journey to the Himalayas

For the past 10 days, I was fortunate enough to get a bit of time off because a number of people from my organization went to a conference held in another state. Since I did not set time aside at the end of the trip for traveling, I decided now was the time to do it. I asked for advice from some people about where to go in this massive country with such a wide variety of topography. Having been living in the desert region of India for about a month and a half, it was time to head for colder weather, and where better to do it than the Himalayas, the mountain range infamous for having the largest mountain on the planet. Also, thanks to my coordinator and other friends, I had the skeleton of a plan for where I would go.

On Wednesday evening, October 10, I hopped on the Mewar Express, which runs Udaipur to New Delhi in 12 hours. I wanted my first overnight train experience to be positive, so I paid a little extra for the 3-Tier AC class, which means there are fewer people coming through offering/yelling chai or samosas, we are given sheets, and there are six beds to a compartment (bottom, middle, and top of one wall). It was very comfortable, and one of my fellow riders offered to look into places for me to stay in Amritsar and gave me suggestions about what I should do since the time between trains in Delhi was 8 hours. This led to my first lesson from this trip. When you travel alone, you have to be able to rely on others and do quick character assessments of people. Of course, it is important to keep a certain level of awareness or doubt in your mind, especially when they start asking for things in return.  In India, there are people called touts who frequent the train and bus stations offering “help” to tourists when in actually they usually lead them to whatever hotels have agreed to give them a commission, which are almost always more expensive than average.

First overnight train ride. I think Wes Anderson stole the font for his movies from Indian trains.

I arrived at the Nuzamuddin Train Station early in the morning and went straight to my next bus station in New Delhi. 8 hours later, I got on to my train from New Delhi to Chandigarh. First stop of the trip. Chandigarh was India’s first planned city after independence and was planned by Le Corbusier, a French architect who the city into a grid with many “Sectors”. On the train, I met a very nice Siikh man who was traveling with his sister and her two kids. He gave me some suggestions about what to do and where to go in Chandigarh.


The next morning I wanted to figure out the best way to get to my next destination, Shimla. This ended up taking all morning (thanks to a very confusing bus system with stations in several different Sectors) but finally discovered where I needed to be the next morning. I went off to the famous Rock Garden of Chandigarh. It was constructed by Nek Chand who did so illegally but eventually was supported by the local government to finish the project. It was quite an amazing collection of rocks, sculptures, and man-made waterfalls. Within the garden, I met a group of 4 local students who were attending university, and I talked with them for quite a while because they had an English test coming up and wanted to practice. Though this did not give me a chance to practice my Hindi, we had a good time walking around the Garden and exchanging information about one another’s culture.

Rock People in the Chandigarh Rock Garden

Man-made Waterfall in the Chandigarh Rock Garden

(Got a few pictures taken with a couple of Siikh guys who asked. Indian people really like taking pictures with foreigners, and foreigners enjoy feeling like they are a celebrity, so win-win situation)


After the Garden, went and quickly saw the Open Hand Monument, also designed by Le Courbusier. The significance of the Open Hand is to represent peace and unity.


The next morning I woke up, had breakfast at the hotel, and went to catch my bus to Shimla, a hill station. I jumped on the bus, which ended up being pretty exciting. Traveling up to Shimla was incredible; the views of the valleys, low-peaks, and apple orchards were amazing. Thanks to our driver, who I can only describe as a Siikh Santa Clause due to his massive beard and jovial nature, I had no trouble staying awake because he was driving as wildly possible. I may have been paranoid, but I’m almost positive after every time they did a death-defying pass on those narrow mountain roads, they looked back at me to see how worried I looked. 6 hours later, I arrived in Shimla and took a walk around the very steep streets of the town. There are only two or three drivable streets in Shimla; stairs are the main method of getting from here to there, which means everyone from Shimla is in very good shape because it can be very tiring to go from one side of town to the next even as a somewhat-fit 22-year old.

The city of Shimla.

Shimla at Sunset

Two men carrying a massive rucksack full of supplies to one of the shops a ways up the hill in Shimla.

It turned out there wasn’t very much to do in Shimla besides walking along the Mall Road and going to the Monkey Temple. There are some treks, but most of them are a ways from the city and take several days with proper gear. Fortunately, I did manage to meet a group of travelers who I ended up hanging out with for a couple of days. They introduced me to Tibetan food, specifically Momos (Veg-stuffed dumplings) and Thukpa (Noodle Soup with Veg). Momos went on to become a staple of the trip and my future eating habits. Also, we went ventured off on random roads and explored the town as much as possible.


A tender moment between baby and parent monkey. This picture instigated a near-monkey attack on myself.

It was election time in Himachal Pradesh and the Communists were winning as far as campaigning goes.


After taking a couple relaxing days in Shimla with the group, Andrew (recently graduated British master’s student) and I set off on a very bumpy 10-hour bus ride for Dharamshala/McLeod Ganj (It is basically one city, Dharamshala, but it is split into two for some reason. McLeod Ganj is about 10 km from Dharamshala proper), home to the exiled Tibetan government, many Tibetan refugees, and the Dalai Lama.

Despite being the most touristy location of my trip, McLeod Ganj was the favorite. There is a very relaxed, Zen vibe to the city. Buddhist monks who live in one of the several monasteries around the area are always going about town or walking through many of the trails accessible around the city. They intermingle with tourists who come to learn more about Buddhism; I met several people who were about to enter into a 10-day intensive course on Buddhism where they are not allowed to speak to anyone and meditate for hours on end.

  (McLeod Ganj)

Everyday, the monks at Tsuglagkhang have discussions about Buddhism and life. When one of them is about to make a strong point, the monk claps his hand together. There was a courtyard of monks doing this.

Andrew and I visited the monastery where the Dalai Lama usually resides, Tsuglagkhang. (He was on tour in the US, unfortunately). There was a very good museum on the history of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, which detailed all of the brutalities and cultural genocide the Chinese have and still are inflicted upon the people of Tibet, including the capture and continued possession of the Panchen Lama (the chosen successor to the Dalai Lama) at the age of 6 (He is now 23). It’s truly terrible; however, the Tibetans who have been able to escape the country, traveling through the Himalayas usually with limited supplies, are still actively raising awareness about the occupation and advocating for independence from the Chinese. Tibetans are primarily a non-violent community, which is why the Chinese have been able to successfully possess the country for so long with limited resistance.



Lots of Prayer Flags all over the mountains in the area.

The next day, Andrew and I decided to hike to Triund, a small base camp located at about 2800 meters above sea level. Two German high school students had told us there was a waterfall on the way that was not to be missed, so we added an extra 6 KM off the path and hiked to the waterfall where we had lunch at the waterfall café. Anyway, after enjoying some chai and omelets, we headed back to the trail to Triund. The remainder of the hike was about 9 km, primarily at a very steep ascent. It took a couple stops along the way, but eventually we dragged ourselves up the stairway of stones to the top. Total amount hiked that day was between 16-18 km and 1500 m additional altitude in about 4-5 hours. But it was definitely worth it. Here’s why.


It turned out Triund was basically a camping site with a guesthouse and three other general supply/restaurant shacks. To make hiking easier, Andrew and I had brought limited supplies, which turned out to be a mistake because the Himalayas do get cold at night. Specifically, I only had a t-shirt, rain jacket, athletic shorts, and a Tibetan shawl, which was crucial.



The sun went down around 6:30, and the cold came very quickly. Fortunately, we had found a place run by a guy named Sunil who offered to let us stay in his store with sleeping bags with support (by support, I mean there were blankets thrown over a pile of stone), but he did have very good veg chow mein. He started a fire at sundown, and a group of travelers gathered and around to keep warm. A group of young, local shepherds and Sunil began singing Punjabi traditional and pop songs late into the night. Eventually, I hopped onto the stones, put the sleeping bag on, and “slept”.

After about a maximum of non-consecutive two hours of sleep, I woke up to the sunrise over the mountains. Andrew and I decided we were ready to get back to McLeod Ganj. The hike down only took 2 hours, though it was pretty rough on the knees since we were basically descending down a massive stone staircase.


My last planned destination was Amritsar, home to the Golden Temple (A massive Siikh Temple) and the India/Pakistan border. The bus from Dharamshala left at 5:00 AM and to get there from McLeod Ganj there was a bus that left at 3:30 AM. I woke up at 2:45 to walk to the bus station and realized my hostel locks the gate every night until morning. Since I had to get back by Monday morning, visiting Amritsar was not going to be possible. I found out there was a Volvo bus to New Delhi that left at 6:00 PM that evening, so I decided to take that. Spent the day wandering around McLeod Ganj drinking coffee and eating momos then bid Andrew adieu and started my long journey back.


I arrived in Delhi at 5:00 AM and discovered the bus station was not open (of course), but found a rickshaw driver that claimed to run a private bus that would take me direct to Udaipur from New Delhi. Anything and anyone is kind of questionable at 5:00 AM, especially when you are an exhausted solo traveler, but I went anyway because I was pretty desperate to get back. Got on the bus and was eventually told that despite the claim that this bus would go directly to Udaipur, it was in fact going to Jaipur (about 10 hour drive from Udaipur). I didn’t think it would be too much of an issue since I would still be able to get to Udaipur by Monday morning and make it to work without any issues, except for the only sleep I’d had for the past 36 hours was on a bus. I stayed on the bus until the last stop, and they had arranged for a tout to take me someplace to wait until my bus left at 9:30 PM (it was about 3:00PM at this point). After spending 6 hours in Jaipur with people who were constantly trying to sell me stuff all the while claiming not to, I was definitely ready to get back to Udaipur. I finally got to see my first Udaipur sunrise over one of the lakes as the bus was coming into town. It was amazing and was a great ending to a very memorable trip.

4 Weeks Deep

“The present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past, nor the shadow of the future”-Siddhartha

On Saturday, September 29, people all over India woke up and went about their morning routine and then went to work. After all, it is a 6-day workweek here. However, this particular Saturday many people took the day off.

For the past week, Ganesha Chaturthi, the first Vaak and Remover of Obstacles, did something that my mother is fond of doing; he took a weeklong birthday. All throughout the week, there have been decorations and lights set up, and nightly celebrations held to honor Ganesha’s birthday. The celebrations consist of loud music and people of all ages dancing. At the end of the week, the idols (all varying in size) of Ganesha that have been in prominence for the week will be escorted to the shores of Lake Pichola where the Remover of Obstacles will be pitched. They throw him into the lake because it symbolizes the concept of Moksha, liberation. It is based around a law of the universe stating “that which takes form has to become formless again”.

The day is significant to myself as well, though no one threw me into the lake. This Saturday marked my first full month/4 weeks in Udaipur. Time can be difficult to manage when you are trying to accomplish so many things at once. Being present and mindful are prominent Eastern ideas that could improve the quality of life for a lot of Westerners. We are obsessed with being busy and splitting our minds in 15 different directions, rarely giving our undivided attention to someone/something besides work. Appreciation for living is lost. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who won a Nobel Peace Prize, explains this act of mindfulness through a concept he calls, “doing the dishes for the sake of doing the dishes”.


I’ve found a lot of Indian culture is centered around the idea of being present and conscious. One particular example is eating. Generally, people eat with their right hand here, and by eating with their right hands I mean, most meals are served with chapatti, circular pieces of unleavened bread that you can grab your main dish with. Papa Ji (the father of the man who owns Chandra Niwas) explained to me that they choose to eat with their hands because you appreciate your food more when you physically touch it as opposed to with utensils. It’s absolutely true. I’ve become more conscious of eating and have been eating better proportions because I’m more aware of what I’m eating. I’ve also learned that it is basically impossible to not get your computer dirty while eating with a chapatti, so multi-tasking without some collateral damage is unavoidable.


One more insight into Rajasthani Indian life. Washers are uncommon and dryers don’t exist. The machines require two things that are in high demand and limited supply, water and electricity. This means all clothes washing is done by hand and all drying takes place either on a line or with clothes hanging all over your room on whatever you can find, which is what I do. I’m not a fan of laundry with machines, and I expected to loathe doing it by hand in a bucket. However, I’ve found it’s not too bad. Once again, it becomes an appreciation for your clothes by having to manually wash all of them even if it does take a very long time and you end up soaking wet.



On Chai

Drinking chai… punctuates our day with precious and refreshing pauses, whether it is after a satisfying meal or when taking a much-needed break in our busy schedule”-Mutsuko Tokunaga

Before I came to India, I knew I was going to be consuming a fair amount of chai, but I didn’t know what it really meant to take chai. There is no proper equivalent for it in the United States, but I highly recommend to anyone reading this to start taking chai wherever you are. From what I have experienced so far, “taking chai” is a way to develop the relationships/community you live in and to take time from your day to appreciate the people you are with and where you are. Chai time is a conscious effort to be mindful and connect. It usually comes extremely sweet and hot in small cups (about 2 to 3 oz); however, if you are going to be talking with someone for a while, it’ll be in a larger, bottomless container. On average, I take chai an average of 3 times a day, Monday-Saturday, which happens to also be my workweek.

(Note: I am back to 100% health. No hasty conclusions, but it had to be chai that made me better.)


This past Sunday I went with Sarah, the ProWorld coordinator, and Mandira, another intern, to visit two incredible sites with rich history. The first was Kumbhalgarh. Kumbhalgarh was a Mewar fortress that was active until the late 19th century. Their major claim to fame is that the wall is the second-longest continuous wall after the Great Wall of China. The fort itself is an incredible tribute to the Mewar kingdom and the architecture of the time. All around the fort and the surrounding area are temples (Wikipedia claims 360 within the fort, but I can neither confirm or deny this)


   Kumbhalgarh from the Wall


View of the Wall and houses near the fort


Speaking of temples, the next site we went to was Ranakpur, a massive Jain temple built in the 15th century. Ranakpur is a square-shaped temple, and inside, there are hundreds of marble pillars with intricate designs carved into each and every one of them. It was slightly overwhelming because there was something to look at in every direction. Every pillar was carved from floor to ceiling, and every ceiling and door was carved as well. Before leaving, we were blessed and wished a happy life by a couple of the monks there, who Sarah knew from previous trips there.

Pillars of Ranakpur



Then on Monday, it was back to work. I’ve begun to gain a stronger sense of what my position will be like at JJVS. My primary responsibility will be to develop a proposal for the microfinance program that has experienced enormous success for the 5 years it has been running and then locate potential funding agencies to send the proposal to. Beyond that, I will spend some time in the field talking with some of the borrowers in the program, and putting in some time in at the school Jagran runs as well.

If you’re interested in learning more about the organization, their website is   ( here ). I forgot to mention the name stands for People’s Awakening and Development Society. They have got an incredible relationship with everyone in the villages they work in due to many of them are from these villages, and as a result, have had great success with their programs through this strong presence in the community. Jagran is very intentional about ensuring there is significant community buy-in for their programs and a sharing of responsibilities, which allows them to achieve a strong level of sustainability.

Now, monsoon season seems to be on it’s way out and sunny days are ahead. I assume this means there will be even more chai to be had now, which I’m okay with.


Walking Far From Home

India has a lesson for you, whether you want to accept it or not is your decision”-Sarah Davitt, ProWorld coordinator


This quote was prominently in my mind while I was preparing for India. It stuck out to me while I was talking with Sarah about basic preparation for coming to Udaipur. Now, after being in India for about a week and a half, I’m beginning to realize how difficult this will be. It’s not a quiet, safe learning environment where your participation is optional, and the teacher doesn’t care if you show up or not. You are pushed beyond your comfort zone constantly, and the only way to learn from the experience is to accept and adjust. Also, avoiding this type of education isn’t an option because the car horns start going around 6:30 or 7:00 AM.

Living in a new country isn’t easy. You have all of the normal issues of moving to a new city. Physical orientation, social norms, food, acceptable traffic behavior etc.. All of these will change whether you are moving from the Midwest to the South or if you are going from Fulton, Missouri, USA to Udaipur, Rajasthan, India. However, when you add centuries-old issues, the role religion plays in Indian society, the lasting impact of the caste system, and a new language that is far from Latin-based, it starts to feel a bit overwhelming.

Western-mentality and dress may still be working to continue colonization in India, but Udaipur at least, remains a rich environment of Eastern beliefs, traditions, and practices. I’m currently in the process of learning, understanding, and remaining flexible to it all. Luckily, I’ve got a great support system here that is always giving providing advice about Udaipur’s food, Indian Standard Time, how to get better when you get sick (shout out to Sarah for rushing me meds!), and always giving chai with a smile, a tradition I’m hoping the West starts to incorporate.

Taken next to Shri Manshapurna Karni Mata (aka the Rat Temple). Approximately where the Old City and New City meet

In only a week and half, I’ve managed to see and do some incredible things already. I’ve taken a boat on Fateh Sagar (one of Udaipur’s lakes), saw traditional folk dancing in the village of Vali, visited Shri Manshapurna Karni Mata (a temple that overlooks all of Udaipur), learned some basic Hindi, and saw a Hindi movie. I’ve been chasing after any type of culture I am able to experience. This has happened while simultaneously going to my internship 6 days a week at Jagran Jan Vikas Samiti (you can call it JJVS or Jagran as you like).

JJVS has been functioning as an organization since 1985, and they are involved with a variety of projects including: traditional medicine, education, microfinance, watershed preservation, and various other empowerment programs for villagers. Everyone in the organization is truly dedicated to their work and has been very supportive of me as I try to solidify a project. Also, the massive knowledge base they have is incredible and is one of the reasons they have been able to help nearly 1.5 million people throughout the life of the organization. Currently, I have been researching potential funding resources for Jagran, but I am hoping to also include some involvement with project implementation. Fingers crossed that I’ll have more direction next post.

Ultimately, I believe one of the greatest challenges while living abroad is being able to look past the superficial differences in a country and learning to understand the culture as a whole, not allowing yourself to stare wide-eyed while thinking to yourself “How weird is that?” Through this process of adaption and assimilation, you are able to grow personally, mentally, and professionally. This is one of my optimistic outcomes I hope to achieve by the end of my 3.5 months here. For now, I’m going to continue being a sponge and absorbing as much as possible and discovering what I can along the way.


Lake Pichola