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From May 7th to May 18th I went to India mainly to visit my younger brother, Manoj and see what he was doing. It was a ridiculously short trip and I didn’t make it very far from the medium sized city of Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu (South India, a few hundred km from Chennai/Madras) where my bro is living. The experience in general was so thoroughly different and intense to anything I had seen before, I’m still having a hard time figuring out what actually happen. Obviously, it was also the complete diametrical opposite of Mongolia in everyway, which probably added to the shock. I didn’t get to see too much of the famous landmarks, etc., but I do feel like I got a pretty genuine India experience, including the people, the environment, the food etc. It was definitely a good introduction and gives my something to build on should I ever go back (fairly likely).
In order to explain why I went out there and what I was mostly doing, I need to explain that Manoj, my brother, was born in this area of India and lived there for the first six years of his life before being adopted by our family and moving to Canada. He’s now back there working with a “micro-NGO” called Youth Helping Hands, promoting and developing musical and other artistic talents amongst the children in Coimbatore’s numerous orphanages. YHH was started and is run by a young man named Arun, who grew up in the same orphanage as my brother and is the same age. Arun has just finished up at the local music college specializing in drumming and singing, and, being a orphan himself, decided a good way to help other orphans would be to showcase their artistic talents in large talent shows. This kills many birds with one large stone: it promotes the children to develop their talents, gives them confidence and self-esteem, brings this often neglected and shunned part of the community into the public eye, helps raise funds for the orphanages, provides good entertainment to the community, and gives Arun and his fellow musicians a chance to promote their own band to a larger audience. So, Arun, who has already held a smaller event like this in February, is working with my brother to put on a very ambitious concert, featuring 6 hours of entertainment, several hundred orphans, and celebrities and dignitaries from the community. They hope to attract several thousand people and raise quite a bit of cash for their cause. I’ll be helping out with multimedia and fundraising in Canada, and maybe some web development for them in the future, so I’ll definitely post some details on this later on.
This big event is scheduled to take place on the 29th of June, so most of my time in India was spent shadowing my brother and Arun as they made the rounds to different orphanages in the area and had meeting with sponsors and donors. This exposed me to quite a bit of the poverty and social issues in the area, which was pretty intense. Most of the orphanages were struggling to put food on the table and get medicines for the children, but were getting by through the heroic efforts of a few completely selfless people, who seemed to have fallen into the responsibility. It was definitely awkward for me, as a white dude on vacation to be visiting these places, but hopefully I can bring the experience home and help make the issues more visible.
I did make it out of the city for two days to see a bit of the mountainous country side where a huge amount of tea is grown. Our destinations were the tourist towns of Coonoor and Ooty, set in the mountain valleys and featuring many gardens and other attractions of interest mainly to Indian tourists. The highlights were speeding through the mountain roads listening to extremely load Tamil music (which is pretty good!) looking at the intense green, lush scenery; walking through the gardens (hence far too many pictures of flowers), and hanging out with some of Manoj’s friends.
Other interesting stuff that I’ll remember for a long, long time include:
- Speeding through the crazy-busy streets of Coimbatore on the back on motorcycle with no helmet and a complete disregard for any sort of safety or traffic regulations.
- Getting tips on full-hand eating from a few of the guys. I had been timidly picking at the food (mostly flat breads or rice with sauces, and nearly all really good) with three fingers, before being strongly remonstrated and shown the different techniques for eating India food with your hand.
- Standing still for 30 seconds in any location and being swarmed with people wanting pictures, to shake my hand and ask my name, or to hold their babies.
- The unbelievable low-impact, sustainable life style of the people and far-sightedness of the government. There was almost exclusive use of solar hot water heating and electric fan cooling, most people don’t have appliances or personal transport and everything is shared. The city government is also introducing a policy banning high density plastics, most plastic bags, and vinyl sign boards.
- The nearly complete mono-culture of that area of India. I was the only foreigner from outside of India in the town of 500,000, and it was difficult to find a Chinese or even a North Indian restaurant to eat at. Even in Mongolia in most places you can find quite a number of western or other foods and influences.
As a side note I got to spend a half day in Beijing on the way home, as I had quite a long layover. The contrast between Delhi (of which I was only able to see the area near the airport) and Beijing was like night and day. Having been in Beijing for a few weeks in December, I was an expert at getting around the city on the metro and I took a few walks through the free part of the Forbidden City and another park nearby. The city was very sombre due the earthquakes, but was still a nice change over place to hang out in between India and Mongolia.
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