Jenna: Highlights from a month in India

India is a must-visit country. There were so many ‘wow’ moments from my 4 weeks on the Indogenius programme, and I have chosen some of my favourites to share with you (in no particular order).

  1. The people: My fellow students from NZ and Australia, as well as the Indogenius team, are an amazing bunch of people who I have learnt so much from. In India, making connections with people from all different backgrounds, cultures, and religions was a significant and very special part of my experience of this wonderful country. India is filled with beautiful, welcoming people who made the month extra special. Most of them have a good command of the English language and when you take the time to talk to them they are open and happy to share their lives and experiences. With a population of 1.3 billion, there is an extremely strong sense of community, and I am grateful that I had the chance to meet so many wonderful new people.
  1. Yoga and meditation: During our time in India we were lucky enough to be properly introduced to yoga and meditation by Susie, who has studied and practised both for over 27 years. In India, it is believed there are 5 layers of ‘self’ or ‘being’ known as Koshas, all of which are interwoven. These are the physical body, energy body, mental body, wisdom body, and bliss body. All are interrelated and dependent on each other. Yoga helps to bring each of these into balance and it works to improve posture, balance, strength. Meditation and mindfulness is something that was referred to often in India and is perceived to be a big part of the lives of many. Meditation helps to re-balance the mind and gives us a chance to stop and look within, noticing what is or isn’t. It is said to reduce anxiety, help with pain management, and aid sleep. 
  1. Bollywood dance: These sessions were always a lot of fun. We learnt a number of different Bollywood routines throughout the month from our wonderful teacher, Gilles. We performed some of these at different places we visited, such as the NZ High Commission and Gurdwara school. One of the best things I have ever done was dancing down the street all the way to the temple. 
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4. Food: The food in India is incredible. I chose to eat vegetarian during the month, a decision which I think was the right one. Every dish has been so tasty, full of spices and flavours. Paneer curry was definitely a favourite, as was the Masala Dosa. Being Gluten-Free, I found it a lot easier than many other countries when it came to finding food options. At Auroville, we harvested our own food. The photo below shows the delicious meal made out of some of the ingredients.

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  1. Initiatives Empowering Women: two that really stood out to me were the Silai School programme and Internet Saathi.
  • The Silai School program started in 2011 through USHA International. They reach out to the most marginalised women in rural villages, choosing one to give a sewing machine to and teach them how to sew. In return they have to open their own USHA Silai school and train at least 20 women in one year. The Silai School initiative aims to eradicate poverty, promote good health and wellbeing, quality education, and gender equality. We visited one of these schools to see it in action. The owner of the school had a large group of women in her home where they were sewing and creating beautiful garments. She used to work in the fields doing back-breaking work each day, and now she has changed her life through this programme, building her own home and running the school.
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  • Internet Saathi is a joint initiative between Google India, Intel and Tata Trusts. They are bringing over 30 million women from 300,000 villages online. Starting in 2015, they now have over 50,000 trained volunteers who are teaching women how to use the internet. This allows them to research and solve daily needs, learn new skills, and access medical advice and job opportunities. Data in India is cheap and easily accessible. In 2014 only 1 in 10 smartphone users were women, compared with 4 in 10 in 2018.
  1. Plurality: Everywhere we went, from Bangalore to Mysore to Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur, and Pondicherry, we saw people of all different religions working or studying together. We visited many temples, mosques and churches and were welcomed into each one. There is evidence of different religions and beliefs in every aspect of daily life in India, and yet there is a strong sense of unity and peace. 

7. Jaipur Foot: A truly inspirational organization that supplies, completely free of charge, prosthetic limbs to any patient who comes through their doors. A person who has lost a leg can come through and have a prosthetic replacement measured, created and supplied within 24 hours, no matter their culture, religion, or status. It is run by volunteers of all backgrounds who have chosen to dedicate their lives to helping others.

  1. Dharavi: I definitely had preconceptions about what this would be like, many of which were challenged after my visit. Dharavi is the largest slum in Asia. It is 400 square acres, about half the size of Central Park, and has approximately 1 million people. Yes, a lot of what we envisage a slum to look like (narrow alleyways, rubbish, collapsing buildings, lack of toilets) is accurate, but the feeling here is far from what I expected. Children were skipping happily home from school, people were working hard at the many businesses within the slum or just going happily about their day, and they smiled as we walked around in our small groups. I found it surprising to learn that some of the people living here are quite wealthy, but they choose to stay due to status and the strong sense of community within the slum. The whole experience caused me to really reflect on a lot of things and it was certainly a moving and memorable part of the Indogenius experience.
  1. Amer Fort: I didn’t know much about Amer Fort before we went here and so I was blown away. This fort is located in Amer, near Jaipur in Rajasthan. Set high up on the hill, the ancient walls enclose the beautiful courtyards and grandeur of the palatial buildings. Raja Man Singh lived here with his 12 wives who all had separate apartments within the palace. It was interesting learning about the history of Amer Fort and hear the stories of the King using secret passageways so the wives wouldn’t get jealous.  Amer Fort is a must-visit if you visit Jaipur.
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10. Taj Mahal: No list would be complete without the Taj Mahal of course. Its beauty and sense of history speak for itself. The white marble mausoleum in Agra was built in the 1600s and is a UNESCO heritage site. 

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Jenna Aalbers

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