In February I traveled to India for 3 weeks to work with Rotary International on two projects: National Immunization Day to end Polio and the Uprala Wala Dam project in rural Rajasthan. We also toured in Delhi, Agra, Ranthambore, Jaipur, Gurgaon and rural Rajasthan (where we built the dam). We stayed all over as we traveled, including some luxury hotels, however my favorite place to stay was our tent village at the dam site. These are beautiful but rustic tents with beds, lights, and small bathrooms. We woke with the sun and the sound of the workers praying as they prepared breakfast each morning. In India, you really can’t go wrong with the food. Everywhere we ate was amazing!
As far as tourism goes, we visited several sites in Delhi including the Friday Mosque, Humayun’s Tomb, and open-air market places, The Baha’i Lotus Temple and the final resting place for Mahatma Gandhi. Next up, we traveled by bus to Agra where we saw the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. Another bus drive to Ranthambore National Park where we saw real tigers in the wild. We also walked through a small village and met locals, including a family that welcomed us into their home for Chai, and the local school where we met lots of happy students learning to read and write.
From there we took another bus to Jaipur, also known as the Pink City. We toured the Amber Fort and the City Palace. We met with craftsmen who make beautiful carpets, hand printed fabrics and marble carvings. After Jaipur we headed to Gurgaon for one night and enjoyed a live Bollywood performance of Zangoora.
The next day we started our real work. We drove to the Mewat district in the state of Haryana to participate in a Polio NID, or National Immunization Day. In total, there were more than 40 Rotarians and volunteers who worked hard to make sure each child in the village was protected against Polio. We administered drops and painted their pinky nails purple to signify who had been treated. To start, we participated in a parade through the village, lead by the Mayor and locals, to gather support and encourage parents to bring their children to the NID sites. After that work was done, we got back on the bus and drove for several hours until we got to our Dam site in rural Rajasthan.
We worked for 3 full days with locals to build the Uprala Wala Dam. This project will have a huge impact on the local residents. The dam will help to retain water from monsoon season, raise the water level and revive old wells, while allowing for 1-2 extra crop rotations, keeping children in school longer and allowing women more independence. We worked with the local community with absolutely no machinery; everything was done by hand, including mixing cement and carrying huge stones. This project is one of many in the area supported by Rotary International.
After leaving our Dam site, the team headed back to Delhi before departing for home. Our team consisted of Americans, Australians, Germans one Brit and local Delhi Rotarians.
My favorite part of the trip wasn’t the tourism, it was meeting real people and learning more about everyday life in India. I loved meeting our local team, and working hard together to build the dam. We had language barriers but learned plenty. At the end, there were lots of hugs and tons of photos. I loved how much the kids wanted to be photographed, although they were confused about film and why they couldn’t see an image on the back of the camera. Their parents and teacher helped me to explain. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to send prints back to these amazing families and children.
If you plan to visit India, look into options beyond tourism, it quickly becomes a far more rewarding experience. Rotary International is a great place to start. If you do decide to go, be sure to visit a travel clinic first to get all your immunizations so you can enjoy your trip. For women, be sure to dress conservatively and be respectful of your surroundings. It’s much easier to cover up if you visit in the cooler months._______
I’ve been a photographer for more than half of my life, shooting on film since I was 9 years old. I’m incredibly grateful to have made a career out of capturing the moments that matter most in life. Though weddings and portraits are my primary focus, traveling is my passion. I’m already planning my next trip (Italy) and can’t wait to return to India!
To view more of Rachel's work, visit her here.