How do I begin to put this trip into words? Well, I guess the best place is how this all came about.
After going vegan just over a year ago, I hadn’t travelled outside of the UK and started thinking of the food possibilities or struggles and after a quick google search of ‘vegan holidays’, we stumbled across Veg Voyages Vegan Adventure Tours. A company that not only takes you on an adventure but also provides 100% vegan food and each trip they offer also helps out at important humanitarian projects, animal rescue and wildlife and conservation projects. A founding principle of Veg Voyages is to create cruelty-free travel experiences - This sounded exactly like the kind of thing we were looking for! We saw they had a trip on offer which takes in several locations of Northern India and finishes with 4 days of volunteering at Animal Aid in Rajasthan. Perfect. We paid the deposit and the excitement began.
After numerous vaccinations, visa applications and months of waiting, we were finally on the plane to Delhi. On arrival we were met by one of our tour guides, Jay, who took us to Gurugram on the outskirts of Delhi. We met with our other adventurers at the group orientation meeting and had our initial introduction to the culture, language and customs of India. Then onto our first traditional Indian meal and getting to know the others on the tour! I didn’t know it yet, but this group of people would end up becoming great friends of mine and I plan on keeping in touch and hopefully see some of them again in the future! The best advice we were given that day which rings so true now the trip is over, was to travel around India with an open mind and an open heart. I had read books and looked at lots online, but nothing really prepares you for the reality of India – it’s like no other place on earth.
Over the next 11 days we travelled to Agra to see one of the seven wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal, then crossed the border into Rajasthan and visited Bharatpur, Kishangarh, Ghanerao and Udaipur.
In a country of such extremities, the fabulous wealth to the brutally poor, the splendour to the rags and the palaces to the slums; India is a place I'm so glad to have travelled to see all of this. Travelling with Veg Voyages took me to the places I wouldn't have otherwise seen, with not another tourist in sight at most of the villages & towns we went to, it meant being able to sample the real culture of India. Something I'll be forever grateful for. What the people of India lack in material belongings is certainly made up for with what’s in their hearts. With the streets alive it pushed me out of my comfort zone into shooting street life and portraits. Luckily for me, people were quite happy to have their photo taken in exchange for a smile and a thank you. I couldn't have felt more welcome visiting this diverse country.
I’d like to share some essential things I learnt when in India:
India will teach you patience, things don’t always run on time. you will need to get used to ‘India’ time.
Staring is ok. Deemed slightly rude here in the UK, but in India it’s perfectly normal.
Even in the smallest, most remote villages, Indians are very welcoming. They want to sample their English and they will want to shake your hand and get a photograph.
You will need plenty of lightweight long trousers – women showing a bit of leg is not generally the done thing!
It’s a rule that you cannot enter a Jane temple if you are menstruating (I mean, how will they ever know?!)
Despite eating vegan and sticking to bottled water you will get a bad stomach at some stage.
Squatty pottys aren’t fun (also kind of connected to the previous point!)
It’s taken me a while to digest just how much we did on this trip and the main highlights for me have got to be the day we went to the local bazaar to purchase gifts for a class of school girls, visiting the Taj Mahal (whilst being rushed around by a guide who I could not understand - I actually wish I had gone off and taken the Taj in at my own pace!), seeing the largest step well in India, getting to wander around small villages and speaking with the locals, staying in various palaces around Rajasthan, taking a Rickshaw ride around the national park while taking in the local wildlife, having dinner with a Prince in a castle, playing a game of cricket (where our Indian drivers were just incredible - I guess that's what you get, growing up playing the game!) and last but by no means least, getting to volunteer at the best animal sanctuary on the planet; animal aid.
Animal Aid is a life-changing place for both people and animals in Udaipur, Rajasthan. Founded in 2002, the mission of founders Erika, Jim and Claire Abrams-Myers is to rescue and treat the un-owned street animals of Udaipur who have become ill or injured, and through their rescue inspire a community to protect and defend the lives of all animals. Their ultimate goal is equality and protection of all animals and a complete end to the use and abuse of animals. Working for the day that every dog, donkey, cow, pig, fish and mouse can live their lives in freedom. Not only do Animal Aid run a busy helpline and rescue service for injured and ill street animals but they also educate the people of Udaipur when it comes to these animals, the police when it comes to the law and they also visit and speak in schools to help educate the next generation. Their compassionate work for the sake of the animals really is endless. Being able to visit and volunteer at Animal Aid for 4 days was such an incredible experience. They really do need all our support and if you ever get to visit then I'd highly recommend it. They also rely on donations which can be made via their website (something I plan on doing regularly from now on!). More info can be found via their website - click here!
Massive thanks to the tour leaders, Zack, Singhji & Jay for looking after us and sharing their incredible knowledge and expertise on the area. Also to my fellow travellers for their company during the experience. I have made some great friends along the way! Friends for life. It was the most amazing feeling being with a group of other travellers who care about animals and the environment as much as I do. We were in a perfect vegan bubble - I wish the world was that compassionate every single day! Not forgetting our drivers too - the most skill full in India! Bahut bahut danyavaad!
India has changed me, I feel I have brought a bit of it back in my soul. The values and welcoming nature of the people, the compassion, the rewarding feeling of helping at Animal Aid and getting to see a place where there is so much love for animals who really need it. I have brought all of this back and its now a part of me. It's a big world out there and it really needs to be explored. There are few things in life that will impact you as much as travelling will. Nothing changes the way you view your own life experience like seeing the way other people live. You learn to value experiences over things; seeing places you haven’t been to yet and immersing yourself in new cultures really does help you grow as a person and learn to appreciate what's important.
All that’s left is to share my favourite images from the trip! Enjoy!