Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hamari Kaksha

Hamari Kaksha is the NGO where I was working for the past one week. It was established in order to educate those kids who would not have a chance to do that. Most of them are from underprivileged families. They are working in the morning and from 3 to 6 they come to play to this Nursery school. This is the only way of education they can get. And I think the only time when they can really enjoy being a child.
They have been working for past few weeks on different plays on various topics. The topics are environment, road safety, corruption and byrocracy or education of women. The average age of the kids here is from 9 to 13. What amazed me a lot that they are very talented. Even though they have very hard life, they come every day and for few hours, they can be kids. They can play with the others and learn something. Most of them do not know English but even though they are trying. I am sure that it was the first time for them to hold my camera when they took pictures with it. I love the smile on their faces and the positive attitude you can see on their faces.
Working with these kids is a challenge and it definitely made one realize how lucky we are that our education is mandatory. And we do not appreciate it!
People who are working with these kids are all volunteers. They do come and spend their time teaching them just for a feeling of satisfaction and to see their smiles.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Dharamsala is the city very close to Himalayas. The city itself is in the mountains and has a beautiful view. As it is so close to the border of Tibet it does not look like a typical Indian city. Although you still see many cows on the streets there are much more Tibetans than Indians.
The place is well known as Dalai Lama was born nearby. They have a beautiful monastery there (it is not very old one but still is beautiful). Every morning monks come to worship Buddha. First they come to the temple and have to go 3 times around it because 3 is a magical number. During these 3 rounds they go and spin some kind of barrels with mantras. Afterwards they find a place to sit and wait till one of the monks start reading mantras loud. The others can either join or just listen. Mantras are read loud to prevent different disasters and help monks to meditate.
After they finish they are given food. We had in the morning Tibetan bread and typical Butter tea. Butter tea is salty.
The other beautiful thing you can find there is a wonderful waterfall and the Tibetan museum. It is nice museum and it tries to show the reality of Chinese and Tibetan relationships. Because Tibetans are not free and could not keep their traditions and culture many of them flee to India. That is why there are so many Tibetans staying in Dharamsala.
The life of monks also differs. In Tibet, monks are dependent on their family, friends or other relatives. They can become monks anytime but the minimum age is 12. Monks are not allowed to work, their job is to worship Buddha and pray for preventing disasters. Monks in India, on the other hand, can work. Some of them have their sponsors and they are not so much dependent on their family and friends.
People in Dharamsala are very nice and polite, they are smiling and they are enjoying their life. That is what I loved about the city.

Monday, June 09, 2008


Rishikesh is a city 6 hours far from Chandigarh, situated where the river Ganges starts. What you can do there is go rafting, visit temples (in India there are plenty of temples) and practice yoga or go for a massage. It is also very cheap city so you can find nice souvenirs, jewelery and clothes there.
I have some advices on how to survive in Indian city like Rishikesh:

- watch out where you step as there are many cows on the street and people use to spit and throw trash all around
- when bulls are fighting slowly start to move in the opposite direction
- respect the cows in the streets
- be careful with monkeys, some of them are aggressive and use to steal things from you
- if you go to the temple remove your shoes and do not wear any clothes showing your knees
- ask the guy at the hotel to arrange things for you - they like foreigners and can be very helpful
- always bargain the price

Traveling by local buses - good or bad idea?

The trip to Rishikesh started when I arrived to a trainee house to meet other trainees who were supposed to come with me. Here I got to know the plan of the trip. When you stay in India you are slightly becoming a bit unorganized and very flexible so you decide in the middle of the day to go for a weekend trip, you re-pack your stuff in the middle of the street and just go. So this happened to me. The plan was also very simple. We will take a local bus to Haridwar and then take a bus to Rishikesh. So one more time - we will take a LOCAL bus.
Let me introduce you a bit to the reality of local buses. They are full of local people who do not speak English. Most of these people are poor and stinky. Buses are usually very crowded. Even if you travel for 6 hours you have people standing in the corridor. The system of buses in India is simple - each place has a number and you buy a ticket on that specific place.
Our bus seemed to be very full so we were pleased that each of us had a seat. But we did not have any numbers on our ticket. Then we found out that the guy at the counter cheated on us and gave us a fake ticket. That was a challenge for us. We needed to go with that bus but also wanted to have our money back.
As I was with 4 other AIESECers we put our negotiating skills into practice and convinced the conductor to give us seats and real tickets. I personally was sitting next to an old woman from one side and next to other intern from the other side. The old woman did not seem pleased to see me sitting next to her. She hardly moved her butt and took half of my seat. The trip to Rishikesh is about 5 hours. Imagine sitting next to a woman who is stinky,taking half of your place and who refuses to move herself. Everytime I looked at her I hated her and when I looked at her again I hated her even more.
But we finally reached Haridwar. We were not sure how often the buses to Rishikesh go (you can see the randomness I am gaining here?) so we just had a look around. And believe me or not, Haridwar is much of an Indian city. There is a traffic jam everytime a cow decides to cross the street. And as they have so many cows imagine the traffic over there.
After around 20 minutes we got on a bus to Rishikesh.When you are taking a bus it is good to have a window seat. The ride is very bumpy and people use to use windows for throwing up and spitting when they feel sick from the ride.
But if you are looking for an adventure and want to have fun you should definitely take a local bus. I think it is strengthening the personalities of interns.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Shopping malls in Chandigarh

I am staying with Megha, VP Talent manager of AIESEC Chandigarh. The first day of my staying in her house was more of a chill out day where we stayed at home and then went with her cousin and friend to the shopping center. All shopping centers are closed on Monday, except this one.
The center itself was very modern. It even had the metal detector while entering. This meant that there was a guard checking our bags and us. The camera was not allowed but cell phones with cameras are allowed. So what is the purpose? Just welcome to India reality....
I think I will start going to traditional markets as they are much better. You just need to know Hindi and bargain the price and you can buy anything from clothes, spices to vegetables and fruit. And there is no metal detector when you want to enter!

Traffic - an (un)organized chaos

The first thing that I noticed about India is their specific style of driving different vehicles. Today I attended one conference run by the NGO ArriveSafe. This NGO was established by a guy who had a car accident which caused him several injures and he now stays on a wheelchair. The topic of the event was Road safety in India and as I was invited to share my experience with Indian traffic I started to think more about it.

So few things I noticed:
- Indians drive on the left side
- Indian roads are full of cars, rick saws, bicycles and motorbikes. There are few cows on roads and sometimes you see also horses or camels
- Indian roads have lines dividing the roads into two rows but nobody obeys them. You just need to find a gap where you will fit and you are fine
- people get of the bus while it slows down and they step right to the traffic. My recommendation: Do not try this at home!
- Indian roads miss road signs. The only sign you see nearly everywhere is U-turn prohibited.
- Indian drivers do not use back mirrors. Simple reason is that they do not have them.
- there is no space for pedestrians because they are not considered as a part of traffic
- they do have traffic lights
- kids do not learn about safety on roads in schools, it is just a recommended topic
- if a police stops you it is good to step out of the car and try to make pictures with them. They might let you go without a fine

Monday, June 02, 2008

Journey from Delhi to Chandigarh

The first thing that one feels when he comes out of the plane in India is the heat. It is now around 32 degrees and it is a "pleasant weather" as locals say.
My first impressions were amazing. I think that it was because of the fact that I am in Asia for the first time and everything is different and new for me.
So for example the traffic. If you have a road with one line in the middle you would say that it means that there fits one car in each line. This does not work for India.
I think these guys here do not have any rules. There are four cars in the line, several scooters and motorbikes, bicycles or rick saws, people crossing the road or camels and horses. They have traffic lights though and I think it is the only rule they have - to stop when it is red and go when it is green.
If you are a European you cannot hide that and that is bad for you. In the moment I reached a bus station I was surrounded by men who obviously wanted to offer me something. The only barrier is that they speak only Hindi. They even do not understand the single English word "No". When you say it to one guy no, the other one will offer you the same thing hoping you will say yes. So you have to address every single man and after a while the whole procedure repeats.
Anyways I managed to buy a ticket for a second class buss - Delux bus which was also air conditioned. I thought wow, great, I will have a great time there. Well do not consider things according to their names. I was happy that the bus had wheels. Air conditioning means in Indian style having one ventilator for 6 places. And if you will try it you can find out that this kind of air conditioning is not working as well as the one we are used to.
After 6 long hours in this bus I arrived finally to the station in Chandigarh. The story of having a convoy of fans around me repeated as soon as I got out of the bus. This time they knew the whole sentence in English: "Rick saw for lady?". But they still need to practice more on active listening especially to the word "No".
After this long journey I finally found AIESECers from AIESEC Chandigarh. These guys are crazy and random. All of them have either cars or scooters (they do not use rick saws or buses often) and they are disco maniacs.
My greatest learning point from this is not to expect Indian people to be organized, they are random even if they decide where to go, what to eat or how to transport themselves. But what is great all the time they somehow manage it.