katrinasadventures' Travel Journals


  • From Massachusetts, United States
  • Currently in Jakarta, Indonesia

Fall 2009: Northwest India

Join Katrina as she shares her adventures, stories and feelings throughout her journey across India's spiritual land. Traveling with a consortium of New York Schools (Hamilton, St. Lawrence, Hobart and William Smith, and Colgate), Katrina will spend time in various locations, such as Musoorie, Delhi, Jaipur, and Varanasi.

Chaksuin it and Pushing Pushkar

India Jaipur, India  |  Nov 02, 2009
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 Historically, during the month of Kartika, which is the winter month between growing seasons, the famous Pushkar festival takes place. This festival has two components to it: Pushkar Mahatmya and Pushkar Mela (cattle fair). 

Oct. 26th: Chaksu Field Trip

            Marissa and I were arriving late an usual and so arrived at the bus last.  We drove 20 minutes and arrived at a beautiful building, this was the CECOEDECON (center for community economics and development economics).  In 1982, this NGO was established to provide immediate relief for people to help each other in a large flood in the region (but then after the flood there were droughts and so the organization assisted villagers further).  They are not a charity, but they focus on development and capacity building.  Therefore, relief is one part of it, but the main focus is Rajasthan development (roughly 855 villages).  They also work with other NGOs at the state level, national level and international level to increase funds, alliances, networking, and international policies.  The program emphasizes female education, illegalization of child labor, sustainable agriculture, fair trade and improved health of women and children.  The strategy for the organization is community mobilization through civil society building, capacity enhancement, networking & alliance Building, and advocacy for policy reform and systems accountability.  Only 20% of the land is irrigated here, so farmers are very dependent on rainfall. 

Integrated Program Approach (Self Help Groups)



Institutional Development Program


Child Development Program


Development agencies all over India are making the same mistake and wasting huge amounts of time and money on projects people do not need or want.  They use their own set of values to determine what villagers need and do not consult with the locals on what the village would be the most effective use of resources.  This organization is very meticulous about changing their approaches through comprehensive reviews.  They have moved from a need based organization to a rights based one in order to demand aspects of life that are a human right, such as access to water, education, and food. 

After a brief synopsis of the program, we headed to the villages.  The place we visited first was off the beaten trail where the government hired rural workers to create a road under the Labor Employment Act.  I had expected to be driven to the side of the main road and see men laying down cement; however, this was the exact opposite of what we found.  It is difficult to picture, but imagine a big tour bus driving on a dirt road, which at one point was quite uneven and forced the bus to tilt significantly, with bare fields all around and goats and camels grazing in the background.  We were making our way to a small village, where the government was paying people (mainly women) about Rs 100 a day, to complete a dirt road from one village to the next.  Yet, since the ground that they were working on was so hard the workers were behind schedule and therefore the government only paid them Rs. 70-80 per day.  Wow, can you imagine only being paid $1.50 a day.  I buy a pack of gum for Rs. 10 here.  Essentially, I would be able to buy only seven packs of gum and have to survive on that. 

The women were intensely colorful in their orange, yellow and pink saris, while the few men that were there all wore white to remain cool in the harsh sun.  Most of the women wore their veils over their heads, in part because of modesty and because there were elders about who were very traditional (it is still to be determined what role the men played in the women having to wear veils over their faces).  Most of the women wore huge nose rings that looked pretty heavy to be lugging around.   The men also had piercings, but they were only in the ears. 

When we unloaded our big tour bus (I call this EXTREME TOURISM), we were ushered to the mob of people that were waiting to meet us.  They were so happy to see us!  They were all laughing and smiling and just staring as I/we took hundreds of pictures of them.  We asked them a few questions with the assistance of an interpreter and then helped them “work”.  The work entailed stabbing their bent shovels into the hard, dry ground and then piling the dirt into buckets to dump on the side.  The villagers found us to be quite entertaining.  Then, we started a little dance session while the villagers sang some songs.  They wanted us to sing as well, so we did our best rendition of “She’ll be coming around the mountain”, “I’ll be there”, and “You are my Sunshine”.  I hope that they were pleased with our off pitch voices (well, maybe it was just mine).

We went back to the CECONDECON accommodations for lunch and met another fellow Masshole who was here making a documentary on climate change in the area.  Being that it is the edge of the desert, this region of Rajasthan is drought prone and for the last few years has endured little to no rain.  Water is a HUGE issue here in terms of scarcity, fluoride proportion, alkalinity (ph=7), and pollution.   Even my lips lost any water that usually moistened them while I was here.  It is true that with the Green Revolution poverty and hunger has been reduced, but so has the environment (water input is especially high). The new hybrid seeds and the availability of irrigated water give villagers better crops than ever before. And those that are employed earn huge salaries, but this all comes at a cost.  Back to lunch, the food prepared was glorious.  I am really getting used to having Indian cuisine, which for us tourists is usually the same dishes, but they have slight distinctions that really stick out on your taste buds.  These somewhat spicy meals are also quite good at clearing out any sinus back up that there is. 

Next, we headed to another small village to see a women’s self help group.  The village we visited was about 200 people and everyone lived in mud huts with goats and cows hanging out in every nook and corner.  The children were running about freely and most of them wore blue dress shirts, which indicated that they went to school.  Motorcycles were the main mode of transportation as seen by the teenage boys who would ride around the village.  Some parts of the village were beautiful with brightly colored walls, especially blue.  This village essentially fit the idea of the ideal Indian village.   One thing that I had not expected to see was all the celebrity posters up inside the houses.  There were American, European and Indian celebrities all covering the walls.  We learned that most people had a television in their homes and so they enjoyed watching show at night.  The women said that the T.V. was fun to watch, but sometimes it made people lazy and they would not do their work (bit usually electricity only came on in the evening for a few hours).

The organization had provided embroidery work for four groups of about 12-14 women.  The women covered their heads with their saris when they talked to us and seemed very shy.  I don’t think that it helped that practically everyone in the village was surrounding them/us when we were asking questions to the women.  It was interesting to observe that the crowd around mainly consisted of children and men (because all the women were at home preparing the food, we were told).  I learned that the women went through a lot of wheat per day (for cooking) and that the work that they did allowed them to have a little bit more income and flexibility with the family.  The income from their embroidered saris created a better relationship with their husbands because money was not as tight.  The women also said that they wanted their children an opportunity to get a better education, especially their daughters; even so, it looked like there had only been two (male) graduates of the school. 

While the sun was setting, we visited a wealthy RamaKrishna temple.  This place was huge and beautiful.  It stood out drastically against its barren, impoverished surroundings.  The whole thing was made out of marble, which is mined in this area.  We also stopped at a Jain temple that was covered in idols.  The tirathan karra idols are so similar to Buddha icons, which makes sense since the religions were created within 100 years of each other and share many of the same characteristics, such as ahimsa.  We had a late din-din and slept in our neat, dormitory rooms.


Oct. 27th: Tonk Field Trip from the Chaksu Field Trip

We were off again to visit villages, but this time it was an hour and a half drive from our accommodation… Well, I had thought that we were going to villages similar to yesterday, but today we toured urban labor development.  First we got to the CECONDECON headquarters in Tonk.  We were greeted by a group of men and they all told us to go upstairs and sit down.  The head man began listing out statistics about the Tonk area.  While doing so he suddenly suggested that we all start writing notes, so he got his men to get us some notepads and pens. The female literacy is 32% while the male is 71.25%.  The area has a history of Nababirs (Muslim kingly people).  Tonk has a population of 150,000 people (1.5 lakh) with 50% of the population (70,000 people) identifying as Sunni Muslim.  For Rajasthan, this city has a large population of Muslims.  The first spot we stopped was a 300 year old mosque in the Muslim district.  This district used to be known internationally for its meat exportation, but it has changed since regulations have been put into place.  Now, there is a big problem of underemployment since there is no “industry” after meat industry became restricted. The restrictions were mainly due to the government listening to the Hindus complaining about the gory massacring of the animals.

Anywho, we explored the mosque, which also had a madursa (school) connected to it that taught kids Arabic.   We all noticed that girls were also learning at the school since they were allowed to until the age of 12.  After that age there are more restrictions on education for girls and family makes all the decisions for these girls.  At the mosque, there were also many clocks that revealed the time namaz (prayer) times.  Even though there are five main times to pray, there were many more clocks for additional services, including the times that women were allowed to pray at the mosque. At least, the women did not have to pray in a different section of the mosque. At the end, imam (head priest) could not appear in front of us and answer questions because there were women in the group (or should I say the group was dominated by women). 

After running up to the mosque minaret and taking a view of the sprawling city.  CECOEDECON encourages different types of cottage industry, namely nagina (lapidary) and embroidery, as well as work to eradicate child labor in the carpet industry.   The first place we visited was through a section in the CECOEDECON took boys from their household beedi making (40 rupees per 1000 beedies) and trained them in lapidary work for six months.  Now, they use electric polishers to make stones for jewelry.  They are paid RS 80 per day for eight hours of work, which depends on many factors especially electricity.  The boys seem to like their jobs much more because it provides a constant income and is stable.   They had no education and so this was an opportunity to make more money, even if nothing they worked with was their own. 

Child labor is still prevalent, even though it is illegalized.  Children are forced especially into speaker (like radios) making because they have small hands.  This is horrible because the chemicals they use burn their arms and poison them.  There is also a large carpet mafia that steals children.  CECOEDECON has been adamant about getting rid of child labor in the carpet industry.   

Next, was a felt carpet maker (namda)… looked like cheaply made things, but lost of cutting, sewing goes into it.  They design their own rugs and wall hanging (bear and troll).  They had a mat that had “Wel- Come” written on it.  I think that Indians think of welcome as two separate words.  We loaded the bus again to go and see embroidery stations.  We walked into a room full of women sewing sequences on saris, which is very detailed, mutinous work.  I asked how old the youngest girl was and they replied “twelve”.  They had been working for four years and did not really like their jobs, but it paid the bills. 

We ate a beautiful lunch with stuffed eggplants, stuffed okra (bindi), green chilies, small brown green peppers (simlamirch), yellow dhal with great seasonings, yogurt, fruit (kela), rice, chapattis, and spicy pickles (achar).



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