Visiting India with Khusi Hona was truly a life changing experience. We had been excited about supporting the cause, but experiencing it first hand changed our perspective in a way that hearing stories and seeing pictures cannot.
But let’s start at the beginning. For starters, this trip was almost over before it began. Let’s just say that the company that handles Indian visas in the states is less than organized and an impromptu 14 hour road trip three days before departure was not part of our original plan. Though we did not have either visa in our possession, at least one of them was listed on the website as being “hand delivered.” Hand delivered to whom? We’ll never know. Knowing we’d be denied entry into the country without the paperwork, we made the drive to Atlanta, showed up at the office and drove home with visas in hand. We were ready to go.
After a quick 20+ hours of flying, Matthew met us at the airport in Delhi—he was the only American and easy to spot. We spent the first night in Delhi and were up the next morning headed to Varanasi.
We had heard Varanasi was densely populated, but frankly we had no idea. It took a little while to get accustomed to the “traffic patterns” in the city and it can only be described as survival of the fittest. While you’re taking in the sights, please watch for cars, rickshaws, tuc tucs, goats, cows, people and manure. Did we mention cows? They’re gods and they’re everywhere. We checked into the hotel and were pleasantly surprised at the quality. Our room and first meal cost almost nothing in comparison to what we would’ve paid in the states.
We spent the first day touring the city and taking it all in. Easily one of our favorite cuisine experiences was enjoying a drink at Blue Lassi. Though not much to look at, we quickly learned why it had earned its renowned reputation. Our only regret is having visited only once! (Note: keep your eyes open for a sister store in Tampa FL. This was the first of many business ideas to be hatched on the trip).
Other highlights in Varanasi included visiting the monkey temple, riding a rickshaw, and visiting the Burning Ghat. This ghat, or neighborhood, on the Ganges River is where people from all over the country bring their family members to be ceremoniously cremated. It was truly one of the most unique cultural experiences we’ve witnessed.
The next day we had the privilege to visit the first of a few organizations Khusi Hona helps to support. Guria is run by India’s 2011 Man of the Year, Ajeet Singh, and provides respite and emotional nourishment for children of sex workers in the red light district. Though these children live a difficult life and face unimaginable challenges, we were moved by their vibrant spirit and zest for life. It’s amazing what can be communicated with a smile.
After Varanasi we flew to Rishakesh, a city that couldn’t be any more different from the first two we’d been in. Considered one of the spiritual centers of India, it’s a land of hanging bridges, fresh mountain air and holy men. Here we visited Ramana’s Garden, a children’s home run by an impassioned American woman who had just come from a meeting with one of the many crooked leaders in India’s corrupt political system. We were struck by the children’s love of learning and the family atmosphere cultivated here. We measured the children for winter sweaters, a necessity due to the harsh winters and lack of heat.
Most of our travel in Rishakesh was by foot, which prompted us to invest in an hour-long Ayurvedic massage. It was the best ten dollars we spent.
It had only been a couple of days since we’d flown, so we decided to jump on a plane again and add another city to our whirlwind trip! In Jaipur we visited the City Palace where we took many pictures and were asked to be in almost as many. If you’re in need of an ego boost, I recommend it highly as the Indians were quite excited about being in pictures with Americans. We also visited the water palace and even stopped to ride a camel. That’s right, a camel.
The orphanage visit in Jaipur was perhaps the most sobering of all. Jagriti Children’s Home currently has 34 children ranging in age from 13 months to 17 years of age. What the facility lacked in resources, it made up for in the outpouring of love from the founder’s heart. Didi, an arthritic woman who can no longer get up from a chair on her own, humbled us by her dedication to this work. She asked us to consider she and the children her family. After this visit it would be hard not to do just that. They are good stewards of what they have, but desperately need a new well and more funds to expand the facility.
We ended the trip with a quick visit to the Taj Mahal. I highly recommend going on a rainy day as it made for less crowds and cooler temperatures. The sight was nothing short of amazing; a must-see on any trip to India.
Our initial plan was to do a little sightseeing and help enrich the lives of orphans in some small way. To say our expectations were exceeded is an understatement. We received so much more than we gave and will carry these experiences with us for the rest of our lives.