I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take an 8 day trip to India in January, on a tour with Inspired In India, a company with a mission to generate income for charitable organisations in India, particularly those which assist with education of children from underprivileged backgrounds.
India has long held a fascination for us at Mokosh, partly because the ancient Indian philosophy of Ayurveda has inspired the formulation of many of our products. The Inspired In India tour was designed to provide an experience that would show both the beauty and the sometimes confronting reality of the Indian way of life. This, combined with the fact that profits from the tour would be donated to Nav Jagriti, a charity that helps educate children living in a Delhi slum, made the decision to join the tour an easy one.
I was greeted at New Delhi airport by Jess Exton, the founder of Inspired in India, and her co-founder Yogen, who assisted Jess as our tour guide, translator and negotiator. The two met 5 years ago while doing volunteer work at Nav Jagriti, which was the beneficiary of the profits of this tour.
It would be an understatement to say that New Delhi was a culture shock. The city teams with life, assaulting the senses with colour, smog, exotic cooking smells and chaotic traffic. The mingling of people, stray animals, bicycles, rickshaws, carts and motorised vehicles, without evidence of either carnage or road rage was impressive. The spectacular bazaars selling fabrics, spices, crafts and food, the blend of old and new buildings, all powered by an alarmingly tangled spaghetti of power lines, were a dramatic contrast to the relatively ordered and uncluttered cities of Australia. During our days in Delhi we took in the Red Fort and Jama Masjid mosque, both built during the reign of Shah Jahan, who also built the Taj Mahal, visited the Gandhi museum, the modern Hindu temple Akshardham and the Dilli Haat night market.
From Delhi we took a 3 hour train trip to the beautiful and spiritual Rishikesh, located at the foot of the Himalayas. The river Ganges runs through the Rishikesh from the mountains, where it is clean and fast-flowing, and popular with white water rafters. Rishikesh is considered to be the yoga capital of the world, and is also home to a number of Ayurveda practitioners and centres for Ayurveda treatments. We went to yoga classes during our stay, enjoyed the luxury of an Ayurvedic massage, and received a consultation with an Ayurvedic practitioner who determined our doshas, the dominant combination of body types under the Ayurveda system of medicine. We also visited a fortune teller whose family has practised continuously since the 7th century, and witnessed a Hindu light ceremony, or Aarti, on the banks of the Ganges. Another highlight was attending a cooking class in a local restaurant, where we learned to make a number of delicious vegetarian dishes.
We drove up into the mountains and hiked back to Rishikesh through tiny villages and stunning countryside. Along the way our hiking guide, Rishi, pointed out some of the locally growing herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine including, to my delight, neem plants which we use in a number of Mokosh products as both an oil and as powdered leaves.
At the end of our stay in Rishikesh we visited the now deserted ashram that the Beatles visited in 1968, then run by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who developed the practise of transcendental meditation. We were guided through the ashram in fading evening light by a local holy man, viewing the long deserted meditation huts, halls for yoga practice, and residential apartments, all now crumbling and overgrown by vegetation since it was rezoned into a national park, where it has since been overgrown by the forest.
Our last day in India was spent visiting Nav Jagriti where we met some of the 60 children who benefit from the charity, and accompanied them on an excursion funded by one of Jess’ friends in Melbourne, to Delhi zoo. The children live in a slum adjacent to the Nizamuddin railway station. Without assistance, they would have no access to education, and would spend their childhoods collecting rubbish to sell to help support their families.
The children found it difficult to contain their excitement at the prospect of the outing, with much jumping up and down and excited chatter greeting us on our arrival at the centre. In addition to providing funds for transport to school, school fees and uniforms, the centre provides a daily afternoon meal for the children when they return to the centre after their morning classes. During the course of our outing it became evident that many of the children do not eat breakfast, as their energy levels faded as the morning went on, indicating how dependent they are on the afternoon meal the centre provides.
These children were a delight to spend time with. They are clever – quickly mastering the workings of our phones and cameras, eager to learn, respectful, loving and clearly care for each other, the older ones watching over the young ones, and all of them thrilled to receive any attention from us. It is unthinkable to believe that without assistance, their days would be spent scouring rubbish tips, with little or no prospect of escaping from poverty.
We expected our trip to be both confronting and exciting, and the reality did not disappoint. Our return to Australia was something of a culture shock in reverse with our clean, ordered streets, free health and education, clean air and, in relative terms, unspeakable wealth. For me the highlight of the trip had to be our day spent with the beautiful children at the centre. We are currently looking at how Mokosh can provide some financial assistance to the centre, or to a similar centre that can make such an enormous difference to children’s lives.
Our experienced and sensitive guides, Jess and Yogen, smoothed the journey, allowing us to experience the ups and downs of India without having to deal with the logistics of travel, so that we were able to take in so much more than a trip of this short duration would permit. Inspired In India’s next tour is planned for December 2014.