An Eye on India

For years I’ve had my eyes (and heart) set on traveling to India. I can’t articulate why, but it might be because the culture and customs are so vastly different than ours or maybe because its temples, mosques and sites are so beautiful. It’s all intriguing to me. I recently had the chance to visit this amazing country through an Insight Trip with Opportunity International.

Jim and I have been supporting Opportunity International (OI) for a few years now. This non-profit organization provides micro-financing and other services to the poorest of the poor living around the world. It is their mission to end extreme poverty (people who are forced to live on less than $2/day) by providing services to help start businesses, send their kids to school and create a sustainable way of life. Through their Insight Trips, supporters can meet the people (predominantly women) who benefit from these services.

In January I planned a trip for 14 women from across the United States to visit India and meet some of the amazing women we have impacted. We were accompanied by the only man in our group, Atul Tandon, the CEO of Opportunity International, who was born and raised in India. His insight into India’s customs, the caste system and what it’s like to grow up in this land of extremes, added fascinating depth to our travels.

We started our journey in Delhi. As a city of nearly 19 million people, we quickly learned patience and time management as it took extra time to get anywhere we wanted to go. We experienced the Spice Market, a rickshaw ride through New Delhi and lunch serving excellent authentic Indian food. A few other highlights included:

  • Humayun’s Tomb – Built in the 1560s with the patronage of Humayun’s son, the great Emperor Akbar. Persian and Indian craftsmen worked together to build the garden-tomb, far grander than any tomb built before in the Islamic world.

  • Sikh Temple Gurudwara Bangla Sahib – The most prominent Sikh gurudwara, or Sikh house of worship situated in the heart of New Delhi. It is instantly recognizable by its stunning golden dome and tall flagpole ‘Nishan Sahib.’

  • Jama Masjid – Asia’s largest mosque from where we were able to get a bird’s eye view of the Old and New Delhi.

I wish we would have had even more time in the city as there was much to do that we didn’t even get to touch. We left Delhi heading for Agra to see the world-renown Taj Mahal. I’m typically a little skeptic when I’m about to visit iconic landmarks that receive so much attention and accolades. However, I can easily say this icon deserves every ounce of fame and attention it receives. It was amazing. I honestly just stood and stared at it as it has a mesmerizing quality and beauty to it.

For those who don’t know the story of the Taj Mahal, it was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth. It is often described as one of the wonders of the world and is built out of white marble. Its symmetry is attention getting and beautiful.

On our way back to Delhi, we stopped in a nearby city to meet our first set of OI clients. This group of about 20 women entrepreneurs were having their “trust group” meeting. It’s a chance to update everyone in their group about their loan repayments, how things are going and any challenges they are facing. By forming a trust group, these women are guaranteeing each other’s loans and providing support for one another. It’s an incredibly effective method of holding them accountable, yet furthering their businesses and livelihood.

The women were as equally curious about us as we were about them. They asked us questions (like what time we get up in the morning) and sang and danced with us. It was a special experience. We couldn’t speak each other’s language, but we didn’t need words to communicate. It was a great way to spend time with locals in the community and something I’ll never forget.

Our next chance to meet our OI women was by flying to Ranchi and then driving four hours into some of the poorest, most remote villages in the country. In some cases, this was the first time the local residents had seen white people. The women here told us how OI is giving them such opportunity and is literally changing their lives. They now have respect among their neighbors, can send their children to school and can keep food on the table for their families.

These women welcomed us into their businesses and homes with such pride and appreciation. I had never met any of them before, yet I felt like I was learning so much from them.

Now I know why my heart was set on traveling to India. Yes, the sites were breathtaking and the customs were intriguing. But it’s the beauty of the people that lured me into loving this eclectic, fascinating place.

Want to learn more about Linda’s trip, Opportunity International or a custom itinerary you could enjoy to India? Email Linda at LindaB@PiqueTravel.com.

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