Savvy Farm Girl’s India Trip – Cowsmo

Savvy Farm Girl’s India Trip

For the next few weeks we are going to follow the Savvy Farm Girl aka Jen Christie
on her travel’s in India with a group of Ivey Executive MBAs. Jen has given us permission to share her blog posts during her trip & is sending them to us when she updates her blog.
Here is a little big about Jen & her blog: It sounds cliche, but I am really just a country girl living in the big city. I grew up on a dairy farm in Ontario. I studied business in university, and started working for a major agricultural equipment manufacturer right away. Perhaps, you’ve heard of them; their logo contains a leaping deer? I’m passionate about agriculture, food, volunteering with kids and my little niece, ‘Leah-bean’.   Check out her blog she has a lot of great posts there in addition to these travel ones! Jen also lived in Alberta for a summer and was a summer intern at Alta Genetics, which is where we got to know her!

Splendour and Squalor – The Taj Mahal, Agra and Humayan’s Tomb – January 11, 2014
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It’s all I can do to keep my eyes open tonight. I had plans to write this on the plane, but folded into a window seat with no space to move, I resorted to sleeping instead. We are now in Mumbai (or Bombay as it was formerly and still appears to be called), the biggest port city in India. It’ll be a quick visit here, as I’m heading to Pune on Sunday with a group to visit some auto manufacturers and John Deere.
My roommate and I have been reflecting heavily on the past two days. The road to the “most beautiful of beautiful and magnificent of magnificent” Taj Mahal takes you thru the streets of Agra, a ‘small’ city of 2 million people. Among a gridlock of people, cows and traffic the absolute squalor is appalling. I am told by well-traveled friends we have not seen anything close to the worst, and yet we have seen far more than you’d ever witness in the worst parts of the worst cities in Canada.
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We left the Taj Mahal yesterday afternoon and boarded an open-air bus bound for the Oberoi Agra for lunch. While waiting, we were approached by the standard souvenir peddlers, as well as a shoeless, disfigured woman begging for money with her baby. It was heartbreaking and horrifying. We wanted so bad to help, but what could we do? After the fact, we realized there were far fewer people approaching us than there might have been given the streets we’d driven through. With the number of guards and checkpoints leading up to the Taj, how were these few able to stay so close to the gates. There is a purpose for them being there.
Among such desperation, there remains fierce pride of all that is good in India and there remains hope. I’ve taken to waving and smiling at people from the bus. Despite thousands of tourists embarking on Agra daily, they seemed so interested in who was in our bus and we were equally interested in them. Not a single smile or wave was left unreturned, their faces beaming with joy. If they have joy and they have almost nothing, why aren’t we the most happy people in the world? It’s also impressive, in today’s world, that so many different cultures live side by side in India, mostly without major conflict. India is a melting pot of nations, most of whom settled here thousands of years ago, and this dynamic heritage makes everything more colourful and energetic.
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The Taj itself is simply breathtaking. White marble, flanked by two identical mosques, gardens and red sandstone walls. Nearby, the Red Fort goes on and on, a huge and striking monument of the days of kings. On Friday, we visited Humayan’s Tomb, an equally stunning sight, constructed by Humayan’s wife when he died. Such lavish splendour exists all over this country, much of it dating back several centuries. The stories are so remarkable, it’s easy to mix them up with those of the various religions.
blogger-image--347429360This is what makes India so captivating; the stories from her past and the rags to riches dreams today are like a fairy tale, and one can never be sure where fact ends and fiction begins. Most of the tales are spun in this ‘city of dreams’ in Bombay, so there will be much to see in the next few days.

Unforgettable India – Delhi, New Delhi & South Delhi – January 8, 2014

I  probably took some 200 pictures and video yesterday alone. Yet, there are images I couldn’t and didn’t need to capture to never forget. Just as everyone told me, the vibrance, spirit and colour in India is phenomenal. Delhi itself is a very ‘green’ city. There are trees and parks and vegetation throughout much of the city which we’ve seen thus far. The bright colours of the roadside stands, selling fruits and vegetables, flowers, snacks and drinks echo those of the beautiful textiles and are a stark contrast to the grey cement and red brick buildings and dust which coats everything. I suspect there has been no rain here in sometime. Even the trees are dusty, and I can’t help but wonder how the city looks after a rain. I suspect it sparkles and the air is fresh, not laden with a thick fog which smells of smoke.

In the two days we’ve been here, we’ve encountered nothing but kind and gracious people. Even in Old Delhi yesterday, when we went for a rickshaw tour through the market, I never felt uncomfortable with my surroundings. Granted, I did have a former rugby player join me, so I suspect this offered me extra security. It is also amazing to see how amid all the chaos, there is flow and it ‘just works’. The rule of the road seems to be ‘honk and go’ and it appears there isn’t a need to waste paint on lane markings because they aren’t ever followed.  Even with video, I don’t know if I can really portray how insane the traffic is when you’re in it, but I realized today it’s best not to pay attention to the driving but that which is past the road.

Often, you don’t have to look much farther than the roadside. These are also the images I will never forget, and the ones I couldn’t capture. When I imagined India, I expected there to be people everywhere, sort of in the busy, New York street, shoulder-to-shoulder way. What I realize now is that it’s not the volume of people but where they are that startles foreigners, like myself. Imagine people walking amongst vehicles during rush hour, children sitting on the median waiting to entertain or peddle electronic chargers or roses the next time the traffic halts, or women sweeping pebbles from the road onto the shoulder. You cannot drive through Delhi and avoid getting a glimpse of poverty, but I don’t think you have to stray too far off the beaten ‘tourist’ path to really see it.

Today, we met with one of India’s largest educational NGO’s, and driving to their office (3 rooms in a residential apartment building with no signage) we gained a much better appreciation for the challenges facing India. There are those which we often think of but until you see infrastructure work being done literally by hand, like trenches for culverts being dug with a pick by ten men, you cannot appreciate what that means. Education will never be enough for the children in the street, unless you can also feed, shelter and protect them. This is a country where 1/4 of the population lives on less than 0.50 / day. A Pepsi here costs $1. Entrepreneurialism is a way of life here, because there is no other way for many.

It’s hard to describe the feeling when you reflect on our Canadian lifestyle in comparison. I think it’s too early into our journey to interpret or form any basis, but just seeing Delhi has provided more context than I’d have imagined. I likely will not have the opportunity to meet smallholder farmers this trip, but my appreciation for the challenges they face are heightened. Tomorrow we will see farmland when we travel to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal, and Friday, I plan to venture out to see first hand what buying food in India entails. I’m certain there will be a wealth of learning in this experience and hopefully I will have an update when I arrive in Mumbai later that evening. For now, I leave you.  Here are some photos from the first few days below.

Traffic in Old Dehli
Traffic in Old Dehli
Map of Area
Map of Area
Presidential Palace
Presidential Palace
New Dehli Paper Market Via Rickshaw
New Dehli Paper Market Via Rickshaw

 

 

New Dehli Spare Parts Market
New Dehli Spare Parts Market
New Dehli Goats on the Street
New Dehli Goats on the Street

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Slum in India
Slum in India
Old Dehli via rickshaw
Old Dehli via rickshaw

 

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