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India: The Fieldwork Edition

Taj Fade

Better late than never, right? A year ago at this time I was frantically reading everything I could about girl’s education in India in preparation for a two-week trip to northern India as part of my capstone project in grad school. My team was working with an NGO, the Study Hall Educational Foundation, based in Lucknow, India, doing an evaluation of their girl’s empowerment curriculum that is being used in nearly 100 government run all-girls boarding schools known as KGBVs. The KGBVs are grades 6-8 and target students from lower socioeconomic classes. The curriculum teaches girls about their rights and bodies — the legal age of marriage, what abuse is, the changes they experience during puberty, hygiene — something that is desperately needed in many parts of the world.

Before we headed into the field, we spent two days exploring New Delhi and Agra. I’d heard a lot about India from fellow travelers especially while I lived in Asia and to be honest reviews ranged from “it was the most amazing trip of my life” to “eh, it was hot, dirty, people are very poor.” The whole time I was in India I was comparing it to my time in Jakarta and other parts of Indonesia and well, maybe I have a major bias, but I enjoyed traveling Indonesia a lot more than India. India was interesting and I would love to visit the southern parts some day but it’s not that high on my list.Colorful Delhi

Taj Mainer

Colorful India

Our fieldwork took us all over the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, one of the poorest regions in India. Many of the schools we visited were over a two-hour drive from any bigger town. Below is a photo of a ghat in Mirzapur, one of the larger cities on our journey. It was magical watching the fog roll in over the Ganges River and spotting freshwater dolphins swimming along.

Ghat

Delhi was a bustling, busy and messy place. I also didn’t expect it to be so cold and foggy in January. When we opened the curtains in our hotel room we couldn’t see anything down below — that’s how thick the fog was.

Electricity

The Jama Masjib in Delhi where you must don long robes to walk around. It’s one of India’s largest mosques.

Delhi Mosque

Delhi Traffic

Wheels

Humayun’s tomb in Delhi is like a precursor to the Taj Mahal. It’s much smaller but was interesting to explore.

Mini Taj

Patterns

Roof Tile

Light

Stars

Puppy

I was completely turned off by our tour guide for the day in Delhi who asked what our religion was to find out whether or not we practiced Islam so he could then bash Muslims while we looked at ancient Islamic architecture. The guide was also a big fan of Putin and didn’t seem down with the whole equal rights for women…so there’s that which doesn’t help in forming a super positive impression of a place. Intricate work at the Qutab Minar tower structure:

Delhi Detail

Delhi Tower

Thanks to a tip from a Jakarta friend we checked out Delhi’s Hauz Khas village, a hip shopping and dining area with lots of interesting craft stores next to modern restaurants along with old tombs and pavilions.

Deer Park

The next day I took the three hour drive to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. It was really impressive and much bigger than I thought it would be. Also checked out the Red Fort and saw how artists insert precious stones into marble.

Dirty river you see from the other side of the Taj Mahal:

Back of Taj

Tile

Red Fort 2

Women

Monkey

After two days of exploring we left for Lucknow. The staff at Study Hall were phenomenal and showed us all around Lucknow and made sure we were comfortable traveling all over Uttar Pradesh which we did by car and train including an overnight sleeper train. Most of the schools we visited were in very rural areas. We interviewed teachers and students about their work with the materials Study Hall provided them with. Reactions ranged from some schools and teachers being very engaged and others not so much. We asked the students if we were the first foreigners they had met and for the majority we were. We let them ask us questions and almost always the first was if we were married or not. The students want to grow up to be teachers, doctors and policewomen, but the sad reality is that after grade 8, many of the parents cannot afford to pay for high school for their daughters so when they return home they are often married off for protection. To be very honest, I was really saddened by how women and girls are treated and really applaud NGOs like Study Hall for continuously pressing the issue of girl’s education.

Boy

Students

A night time stop in the city of Varanasi where many westerners come to find themselves:

Varanasi

Varanasi Boats

Varnasi Water

Varnasi Boats

Varnasi Magic

Varnasi Temples

Students 2

Students 4

A lot of the schools were in very poor condition without a lot of restroom facilities for students and many experience electricity problems:

Candle Class

Ganges River

I would love to have vegetables delivered to me in this manner:

Vegetable Delivery

Ghat Steps

The Lucknow train station where we spent many hours due to train delays:

Lucknow

Lucknow’s winding alleys and markets with miles of jewelry.

Night Market

India Eats

I ate vegetarian for most of the trip with a few fish and meat curries as well. I miraculously did not get sick at all. An Indian friend back in New York told me I was the first western person he has met who didn’t get food poisoning while in India, must be that Jakarta stomach of steel I developed. I really enjoyed all of the lentil and cauliflower dishes and love how flavorful vegetable dishes are in India. The second to last night I had butter chicken and some other street food meat dishes that were very tasty.

Wishing everyone a happy 2016! Hoping I get to hit the road again soon and not blog about it a year later :)

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hi Lydia! In November James and I went across southern India (Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu) for the whole month and even for me, an Indonesian, India was really an attack to my senses. We learned many things about UP — as how Indians call Uttar Pradesh — and it sounded like an even more challenging place, not only to visit but also to live. But one of the highlights of our recent trip to the country was rediscovering long-forgotten connections between Indonesia and southern India, from food (some dishes in Kerala taste very similar with my mom’s cooking) to ancient Hindu temples, especially those in Tamil Nadu.

    December 25, 2015
    • Sounds like a great trip! I would love to visit Goa and Kerala some day, but I think your description is apt, it was an attack on my senses too and I didn’t find a single minute of the trip relaxing. Interesting, yes, but I felt like I was hyper aware the whole time. So I’m going wait some time before the next trip to India. Happy new year to you and wishing you many good trips in 2016.

      December 25, 2015
      • I was too hyper aware the whole time. I had to. The next time you come to India I suggest you to visit either Sri Lanka or Nepal afterwards.

        December 26, 2015
      • I have been to Sri Lanka and I loved it. Totally different pace compared to India.

        December 27, 2015

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