Have you ever been on a trip and someone asked you to get them something specific from the place where you were traveling?
On our trip to India last year, we had a few interesting experiences as a result of special requests from friends back at home.
The first was from a friend who asked me if I would pick him up a specially-colored bowtie. He wanted a “saffron-colored bowtie” which would go well with an outfit his wife was wearing to a holiday party.
We took his request seriously, so anytime we were in a clothing store during our tour around the country, we looked for this special item. After checking in many locations, we determined that this was not something that was going to be easy to find. We decided to wait until the end of our trip when we were going to be traveling on our own to the city of Jodhpur.
As an aside, we often like to end our trips with a separate independent excursion. After we have been traveling with a group where all the details are being taken care of by a tour leader, it is fun to see how we can function on our own within the country.
We have done this almost every time we have traveled, both after cruises and group land trips. Rather than rushing back to the airport to head home, we have found that this additional three or four-day excursion is a memorable way to end our time abroad. We call it our “cool-down period” and it literally gives us the opportunity to slowly and deliberately enjoy a slower pace than what we had become accustomed to while we were with a large group rushing around with a tour guide.
After our tour in India ended, we had stayed an additional three days in Mumbai so that we could we met up with cousins of Indian friends from back home. Then we flew from Mumbai to Jodhpur which in itself was an interesting experience because we didn’t have the services of a tour guide.. When we arrived in Jodhpur, we were met by a driver who took us to RAAS, a luxury hotel which was within a walled compound directly in the city. We felt very comfortable venturing out into the city but it was a pleasure to come back to the quieter, protected confines of this hotel.
We began our search in earnest for the bowtie in many of the shops near the hotel. By chance, one shop owner recommended another store down the street which was the outlet for a European NGO (non-governmental organization). The owner showed us his inventory of ties and shirts but suggested that if we wanted to have something custom-made in a special color, we should visit the home base of the NGO and they would be able to make it while we waited.
The NGO turned out to be a group home in a large, converted mansion located about a half-hour outside the city.
We arranged for private transportation (a motorized rickshaw) and spent the morning learning about how over the years, hundreds of women have been rescued from poverty through the generosity of European donors. Mothers and their children who would have otherwise been homeless were given the opportunity to learn a skill (in this case sewing) and were subsequently set up in business for themselves after they had completed the training course.
While we were at the home to about 12 women, we were shown their workplace where we selected the material in the specific saffron color.
While we waited for our item to be completed, we talked to the women who were busy sewing yoga mats for a Swedish donor who had traveled to India to see the working conditions of the women who were creating her product. We also watched as one of the older women applied the decorative henna to the arm of her co-worker who was getting married that weekend.
After returning to the area near our hotel, we visited one of the successful “graduates” of the program who had her own shop selling many of the sewn items.
It was wonderful to hear Sanju’s story and to share her pride in having risen from poverty to a middle-class shop owner.
We love these “authentic experiences” while we were traveling especially when they are spontaneous and unplanned in advance. This was a welcome break from the tourist sites that we had been visiting for the past three weeks. These “field trips” provide us with a much more realistic view of the foreign country.
In next week’s installment, I will tell you about the next request we were able to fulfill while visiting the same city of Jodhpur.