India: an addendum

‘What country are we in?’ Oliver asked at dinner last night. A fair question. A bit like asking what day of the week it is once you’ve been on a really good holiday for a while. Nepal is the answer, Chitwan – Nepal. You know you’re in Chitwan when elephants wander through the garden of your accommodation as casually as kangaroos hopping through Emma’s old horse paddock back home – there is one going past as I am typing.

The view from Greg’s blogging spot
Blogging life

We’ve been here for two days so far and are yet to leave the confines of the Sapana Village Lodge. Oliver, Amy and I have finished reading the second half of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Dumbledore died which was a bit sad, but Harry and Ginny Weasley got together which was a bit happy. Emma, I think, has read a number of books, or at least most of one really long one.

You might say we’ve been having another holiday from our holiday. There are a host of wonderful things on our doorstep, but they will wait. Playing badminton over a bamboo pole resting on a couple of deck chairs has been all the fun we need.

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India, as you may have gathered, was jammed packed and from where we left off last time we still weren’t quite done. We did, for example, have an interesting arrival into Delhi. We had done well, by and large, with accommodation selections and were quietly confident with our choice of the Skyz Homestay in Delhi. Until we got there, climbed the narrow staircase to the top floor of the building and were shown our rooms.

They were filthy. Thick dust covered un-mopped floors, bed sheets clearly hadn’t been changed from the previous occupants, and the toilets reeked with thick dirt all over the floors and shower doors hanging off the hinges. Our host asked me if everything was ok and comfortable. ‘The toilets could do with cleaning’ I think I said. He seemed surprised. Perceptive man. We made up an excuse to go for a walk where a family conference ensued. Emma purchased some further data credit for her phone and was soon hunting for new digs.

She found one within a kilometre of where we were but we had no idea which way it was in the maze of streets without names. Some helpful locals, followed by a lovely bicycle rickshaw man, soon helped us track down the lovely Megha Homestay and after looking at the room we booked on the spot. The rickshaw man took us back to the original place with the man who saw no filth, my mind plotting what I would tell him and wondering how he might react. Fortunately, we were spared that because he wasn’t home. We grabbed our bags and piled four people and luggage onto the rickshaw built for two for the journey back to our new place.

The next evening, we went to watch South Africa play Sri-Lanka in the T20 Cricket World Cup. Attending the cricket in India is not the same as attending the cricket in Australia. The Delhi cricket stadium looks gorgeous under lights on television and indeed from the stands. The stands themselves however are ramshackle as you would expect in India. Emma and Amy went to the toilet. Once. See photo and I’ll say no more.

Not up to Australian standards…

We started off seated on the second tier of the stadium which was… loud. Indian supporters are incredibly enthusiastic even when India is not playing. We met one fellow who had caught a two-day train from Chennai to watch AB de Villiers play. He said, ‘It was horrible’. The train that is, not AB. AB smacked a massive six to win the game which we watched from our relocated seats on the upper, outdoor, tier of the stadium. The upper tier provided a brilliant birds eye view of the game without the echoing rumble of the excitable crowd.

I counted six requests for photos with us from other spectators. I think we were more popular than AB.  We did try to win the car using a sign like we had in Australia last year, but alas the cameras did not search the top tier. We all know Emma’s sign waving skills would otherwise have won it for us for sure.

Watching from the top tier
Trying to win a car!!

No trip to India is complete without a visit to the Taj Mahal. It’s just one of those things, one of the most iconic structures in the world. What I love about going to places like this is the feeling of deja vu, or of stepping into the cover of a Lonely Planet book. It’s a little surreal to be in a place you’ve never been but which seems almost as familiar as your own front door.

We visited on a stormy day. Thick grey clouds provided a gorgeous back drop for the marble monolith. It was Easter Sunday and Amy and Oliver had Kit-Kats for breakfast at the entry gate at 6.46am because no food is allowed while I tried to work through in my mind whether or not India’s policy of charging foreigners 800% more than locals for the privilege of visiting such places is justified. I still haven’t worked out if I am ok with that or whether it seriously irks me. It is what it is, and I won’t dwell on it, but blanket policies which make assumptions about people based on skin colour are problematic.

The first look… magical
Practicing our silly poses
The winning silly pose!
Selfie at the Taj Mahal
The sun almost came out as we were leaving

We paid 800% more than the locals to get into Fatehpur Sikri as well. Never heard of it? Neither had we, but Naresh suggested it was worth a look on the way to Agra so we said, ‘sure, why not’. Fatehpur Sikri was the short lived capital of the Mughal Empire between 1571 and 1585. I can’t believe I didn’t know that. According to the Lonely Planet:

‘Emperor Akbar visited the village of Sikri to consult the Sufi saint Shaikh Salim Chishti, who predicted the birth of an heir to the Mughal throne. When the prophecy came true, Akbar built his new capital here, including a stunning mosque – still in use today – and three palaces for each of his favourite wives, one a Hindu, one a Muslim and one a Christian (though Hindu villagers in Sikri dispute these claims). The city was an Indo-Islamic masterpiece, but erected in an area that supposedly suffered from water shortages and so was abandoned shortly after Akbar’s death.’

Imagine spending the fortune of an Empire building a city of magnificence without the foresight to check if there was enough water to support it. Alas it is through such decisions that UNESCO world heritage sights are created. I suspect however you need to be an Emperor before it is possible to simply put no foot wrong. For everyone else it is no doubt a case of ‘off with their head!’. I wonder if the fruits of any of my labours will be celebrated like this in the future. A UNESCO world heritage listing perhaps for the most short-sighted of advice I have provided the environment minister?

The fact that Akbar’s three favourite wives were ardent believers in three separate religions also seems remarkable given they seemed to happily co-exist rather than run each other through with swords. There’s always a favourite though and his Hindi wife had the most magnificent palace because she gave him a son – couldn’t have just been chance could it? Nah. It would however be a mistake to think Akbar had just three wives too. There is another tiered building in the complex built with 176 columns – one for each member of Akbar’s harem. I so want to be an Emperor. For the buildings I could construct I mean. What were you thinking?

Just an aside Akbar was the grandfather of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (the builder of the Taj Mahal).

The massive temple square at Fatehpur Sikri
Chilling at the Fatehpur Sikri – for Brendon

I think we better move on. Last story. A nice peaceful one. Of natural India and the wonderful wildlife it supports. Before the Taj and Fatehpur Sikri we stopped in at the Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary. On the back of a bicycle rickshaw we gently cruised this oasis of calm and serenity where we spotted no less than 41 different species of bird including kingfishers, black rumped woodpecker, Siberian ruby throat, painted stork, hornbills, and the aptly named yellow footed green pigeon.

Cycle rickshaw at bird sanctuary
White-throated kingfisher – for Khia
Yellow footed green pigeon

But that’s it for India. We were done. We flew out to Nepal the day after the cricket match and spent two action packed days in Thamel, Kathmandu. Action packed because we were on a shopping mission to purchase the gear we would need to trek to the Annapurna Base Camp. Yep, in a little over a week from now we will be meeting up once again with the Canadian friends we first met in Cambodia before making the 10-12 day trek into the mountains.

Shopping in the streets of Thamel, Kathmandu

In Thamel we purchased a bag full of trekking gear and about a dozen sizzling brownies. They were incredible! A sizzling hot plate supporting a rich moist chocolate syrup coated chocolate brownie topped with a ball of vanilla ice-cream. I don’t normally blog about food, but this was amazing. Dai – you’ve got to get over here. You’d love it!


Beauty in the ruins

India is a handful. There is so much to take in that it will take some time to process – to work out what to make of it all. We approached India with some trepidation. When my fears ran away with me, as they sometimes do, I imagined India chewing us up and spitting us out. I had visions of being so uncomfortable we would end up hating it, and each other in the process. Emma had worries about us all being consumed by stomach bugs and curled up in bed for days on end.

These worries were not baseless as they sometimes are. I did visit India with work nine years ago. I went to Ahmedabad, where the air quality was so appalling you couldn’t see more 100 metres and where slums stretched as far as the eye could see. Others we meet, that have travelled to India, also invariably have tales to tell about Delhi belly.

This however has not been our experience. The sky has almost invariably been blue and apart from the odd rumble, our stomachs have been fine. The place is gritty and dirty and ramshackle and crumbling, but there is beauty in the ruins. I found it in Bundi, a town of colourful walls settled at the foot of another imposing old palace and fort.

In general, Bundi looks as though it has been constructed from the kind of materials we keep stored in the lean-to at the side of our house. Open drains abound, carrying grey water through a complex mish mash of alleys, lanes and streets. The water drains to a central lake so rich with nutrients it has turned an unnatural shade of green. Sound appealing? It’s not, unless you can also see the beauty it creates.

In amongst the drains and flaking walls, there is a texture and colour which is unique and captivating. As we walked the streets in search of step wells, forts and palaces I found myself happily snapping photos of the endless supply of intriguing walls, doors and windows. Every twisting turn presented new and beautiful sights.

Bundi Palace – note the green lake
Bundi – view from the Palace
The beautiful colours
Amazing step well in Bundi
Indoor beauty also – staying at Bundi Haveli (Haveli translates to mansion)

Our little family of four however walked the streets of Bundi and had four significantly different experiences. It all depended upon what caught our eyes and imaginations. In Bundi I started to revel in our celebrity status. I also begun to feel comfortable, if not at home, walking the streets. Travelling in India I decided is not that dissimilar to elsewhere, its just not presented in such a glossy package.

Not everyone felt the same. Oliver made a throw away comment as we left our hotel one day to the effect of, ‘now I really appreciate good drains’. Bundi’s plumbing clearly came as a shock to him and it became a feature of his experience. It will, reasonably, take some time for him to become accustomed to this and for his focus to shift elsewhere. Emma and Amy were still struggling to different degrees with the heat, smells, noise (they really do honk way more than is necessary) and constant attention.

Bundi street scene

The attention we all continue to receive almost everywhere we go is itself an ongoing riddle. It is almost impossible to know what the basis of our daily interactions with the local people will be. To so many people we are little more than walking ATMs and we have found ourselves on many occasions politely talking our way out of unsolicited diversions into shops, navigating our way out of services we didn’t ask for and studiously, if uncertainly, declining requests for a handout.

Not everyone however is out to lighten our wallet. We met some wonderful people who didn’t treat us like a walking rupee. Tony, his wife and sons from the Lake View Garden Restaurant in Bundi were among our favourites. The Lake View Garden is a small place with a crumbling kitchen and plastic tables and chairs weathered by the sun overlooking the unnaturally green lake. The food was incredible and cheap and we ate there three times a day.

By the end of our stay Amy and Oliver were roaming the gardens with new friends almost like they were visiting a school mate on a weekend. Tony and his wife were so lovely and so unassuming it was a pleasure to pay over the odds for the food they served.

Friends at Lake View Garden
Lake View Garden Family
Amy having henna done – the kitchen is in that little door
The revealing of the henna

Then there was Mr Kukki and his son Kukki Jnr (aka Bunty) – amateur archaeologists working out of Bundi. Mr Kukki is globally renowned for his discovery of ancient rock art (think aboriginal rock art such as in Kakadu) in the hills of Rajasthan. His story is a most inspiring tale. In short Mr Kukki moved to India from Pakistan as a refugee. As a young kid he started scratching around in the hills to escape work at his fathers shop through which he built up a handy collection of ancient coins. Not that he knew it.

He grew up some more and opened his own highly successful business and became a wealthy man (yep India has them too). His archaeological hobby however proved too much for him and he sacrificed everything he had to pursue his passion. He soon put together a collection of priceless ancient artefacts by scratching around in the hills in withering heat which he then donated to the national museum. He squandered a fortune to follow his passion and just when he had his ticket back to financial freedom he gave it away based on a principled decision that the artefacts he had found belonged to all of India.

Today the Kukki’s make enough rupees during the tourist season, by showing people like us a few of the ancient rock arts sites, to keep fossicking the rest of the year. When we asked how much a day out with the Kukki’s would cost, Kukki Jnr’s reply was, ‘that’s up to you. I’ll show you around, we’ll have a good day, and then you can give me a few rupees if you like’. It is a tale of dedication, passion and a calling triumphing over self interest.

Seldom do you have the pleasure of meeting such a man of principle who purpose in life is more clearly known. What a joy to be doing what you love, loving what you do and content and happy as a result. I hope one day to find this too and while I enjoyed the rock art, hidden out in the wilds on the edge of a gorge with vultures circling above, I enjoyed the Kukki’s enthusiasm and story more.

Kukki Jnr explaining the cave paintings
With some of the cave paintings
We leant how to paint
Leaving our mark (temporary graffiti – rain will wash this off)

Another Indian fellow interested in more than a rupee cut my hair while we were in Bundi. Growing my hair was fun, but I’m over it. I think it was a mild mid-life crisis and a hankering to break out of the Commonwealth Public Service mold, but the reality is it was bugging me. So I wandered into a tumble down little hobbit hole of a hairdressers unsure quite what to expect.

The haircut went as expected. A snip here a snip there. It was what followed that no one could see coming. At first I thought the man had mistaken my head for scone dough as he started slapping and pulling and kneading my scalp. Head massage, I soon cottoned on. Nice. Then I felt the strange sensation of fingers twisting in my ears. Did that feel nice? I’m not sure. A face massage, with special attention to the eyes, was followed a shower from a water sprayer which ran all over my face and down the front of my shirt.

‘Does everyone get this treatment?’ Emma asked as she, Amy and Oliver watched on. I don’t think she got an answer before he started on the chiropractic work, grabbing each of my arms in turn and wrenching them back as he simultaneously pushed me forward. An arm massage followed that and a knuckle cracking after that. A few slaps to the head topped it all off.

How much I asked him? ‘As you like it’, came the answer. The price of half the services in India is a matter of ‘as you like it’. I paid the equivalent of $3, which according to our driver Naresh was probably about $2 too much, but I’d do it again just for fun!

Haircut time

We moved on from Bundi to Ranthambore and the Ranthambore National Park. We came to Ranthambore hoping to see a tiger. Not in a cage. Not in a zoo. In the wild. A real, live, wild tiger. Yep, that’s what we came for. We were not however expecting it to happen. People make many safaris into Ranthambore hoping to see a tiger and while the sightings are frequent enough to keep you hoping, people are more often disappointed than not.

We agreed to book whatever safaris were left through our hotel and hope for the best. We had tried to book in advance on line – three hours of Emma’s life she’ll never get back. After checking in I went to pay for a private ‘Gypsy’ (4WD) ride into the park but it wasn’t that simple. An Indian man with limited English guided me to the front door told me to wait and soon returned on his scooter. I got on and off we went, a little nervous because Emma had no idea I had gone.

We whizzed through the usual Indian chaos before arriving at the safari booking office, a fair sized concrete building packed full of locals desperate to get to an inadequate number of ticket windows. Into the fray I descended, urged on by my man from the hotel, pink safari slip in hand. I made the ticket window after some effort and pushed my safari slip through to the harried soul on the other side where upon I was told to wait until my name was called.

Which I did, sandwiched like a sardine with Indian men pressing up against me on all sides. It may have been unpleasant except I couldn’t help think what a wonderful cultural experience it was. What a spectacle of disorder. After thirty minutes I received my prize – four seats on a ‘canter’ in zone 5, one of the lucky zones for tigers.

We got the last seats on the canter

The canter picked us up later that afternoon and we rumbled into the park. We whisked past spotted dear, samba dear, monkeys, peacocks, crocodiles and other creatures without more than a fleeting, bouncing, sideways glance. We were on a mission to get deep in to tiger country. These other curiosities were being reserved as a consolation prize on the way back.

Consolation prize dear – photo by Amy

When we reached a cool, wet, grassy, green gorge in the dusty, rocky hills the canter halted and the guide did his best to keep everyone quiet while we sat and waited. I tried not to be disappointed. I knew it probably wasn’t going to happen. Alas, no tigers for us. The engine started up and we did a u-turn to head for home.

And then. And then. And then. And then there were three other canters and a few gypsys all stopped up ahead looking into the grass. We stopped too and cast our eyes around before locking onto an orange, black and white stripy head protruding from the grass. My heart leapt and Amy jumped a little with excitement beside me.

A tiger. It was a tiger. IT WAS A TIGER!! I couldn’t believe it. It sat there, in a pond of water fringed by grass, looking magnificent without really trying to. It just sat and watched oblivious to the 60 people staring at it, jaws dropped and cameras firing. For thirty minutes we watched as it swatted away insects with casual flicks of its head and paws before it slowly stood, turned and walked back into the tall grass. All eyes followed for as long as possible before it simply disappeared.

Watching and photographing

We didn’t go on any more safaris. They are not cheap and we couldn’t see how the experience we had just had could be topped. We took the next day off. Playing in the pool, throwing a frisbee, doing school work and watching with amusement as the hotel staff used a hammer to smash the padlock off our hotel door when the key refused to work.

Is this a theme? – hotel staff and door lock issues

The next day was Holi. We didn’t really know what to expect or even if we were in the right place to observe any of the goings on. We walked out into the streets hoping to see some colour and movement but unsure what we would find. Within minutes we were coloured from head to toe by different groups of young men all eager to help a family of foreigners experience the fun.

Happy Holi
Holi colours

We never expected India to be an easy place to travel. I think that Emma and I felt it was a place we ‘should’ visit, if only to deepen our appreciation of the life we lead at home. I’m not sure that Australians, by and large and without wishing to generalise, do always understand what they’ve got. It would however be condescending to suggest that we have it better all round. There is beauty and vibrancy and life in this country which we first found so different and strange.

It has been hard on occasion observing the discomfort felt by Emma, but more particularly Amy and Oliver – but does that mean we shouldn’t have come? I don’t know what Amy and Oliver will take from the experiences we have had so far, whether they are also taking in the beauty in the ruins. They have however now had exposure to how differently more than a billion people in this world live and this I hope will give them a broader perspective to chew over in the years to come.

Beautiful ruins


Nine years ago Emma gave me a Christmas present. More than one no doubt, but one of them was a little different. A World Vision sponsor child. It was premeditated. We had conspired about it beforehand.

I didn’t think too much of it after that other than sending off the occasional birthday or Christmas wish or claiming our tax deduction. When this trip came along however we knew that one of the things we would really love to do would be to visit Ramlekha. I liked the idea of making ‘real’ a person and a place that existed, for all intents and purposes, only in my imagination. I also liked the idea of making a connection between our two vastly different lives.

The visit became something of a marker point for our year. We wanted to get here before Rajasthan becomes unbearably hot. Temperatures from April sit well above 40 and regularly push 50, or so we are lead to believe. Our travels in India too are really an add-on to make the most of the visit with Ramlekha. We are fortunate she lives in the same state as so many of India’s famous attractions.

Ramlekha’s village is around 50 kilometres outside the town of Baran. Baran lies 70 or so kilometres beyond the city of Kota and Kota is about 250 kilometres south of Jaipur. The further we travelled from Jaipur the more unusual we became. Not many tourists visit Kota and I’m pretty sure no tourist ever visits Baran. All eyes in the busy cross roads at the centre of Baran fell upon us as we alighted our Innova out front of the Surya Hotel. It wasn’t long however before Mayank from World Vision appeared and we were in good hands.

I had trouble sleeping the night before the visit. No sponsor had ever visited this particular village. Only one other had ever visited the region. ‘Does the community know we are coming?’, I asked at dinner earlier that evening. ‘Oh yes’ Mayank answered. ‘They are very excited’.

We set out early the next morning. The plan was to get there around 8am so the people of the village could spend a couple of hours with us before they returned to the fields. It was harvest time and forgoing a day of harvesting wheat by hand in the hot sun to spend time with us would mean forgoing a day’s wage. All of $3.

The drive was pleasant. Rural India is quite a contrast to urban India. No dirt, minimal litter, no putrid puddles of water. Fields of wheat were the norm in the hot, parched and steadily baking landscape – a landscape eagerly awaiting the next monsoon. We crossed dry, rocky river beds and passed other little villages, like the one we were destined for.


Wheat cut and bundled by hand

My excitement grew as we drew nearer and I felt a little nervous. What would we say? What would we ask? What would be the common ground? Emma was equally unsure. The more I extended my mind the greater the blank it drew so I let it go and decided that what would be would be, that we would react in the moment and trust in the genuine intent that had bought us here.

Of course when we got there it was not at all what I had expected. It never is. The first sight to greet us was a large purple and white tent like marquee set up as the staging point for our visit. We were ushered in by the World Vision staff accompanying us, there were about 5 of them and they all seemed thrilled at the chance to show off their work. A man was beating a drum and there were loud bangs of fireworks to welcome us.

Inside we were seated as guests of honour at a table set up at the head of the area. The tent soon filled with a few, then a few more and before long the entire, hundred or so strong, members of the village. The women sang songs of love and gratitude in honour of our visit. Individual and small groups of children took turns to dance for us or to sing more songs. We were then welcomed by the head of the village. Red dots were painted on each of our foreheads, Emma was wrapped in colourful scarves and flower garlands as were Amy and Oliver while my head was wrapped with cloth to form a turban.

Seated before the crowd
The welcoming people
A blessing from Ramlekha
Amy receives her blessing
Ramlekha on the left
Oliver greeting Ramlekha
Greg receives a turban

Ramlekha herself was dressed in what I’m sure were her finest clothes and appeared a little overwhelmed. Not surprising. We felt much the same. The whole experienced exceeded any expectations. This was a most extraordinary reception. As we later told our hosts, the strength of gratitude that the people felt because of the work World Vision has done was palpable and it was being lauded upon us just because we had come to visit.

After all the welcoming, speeches, songs and dance we were ushered off for a private meeting with Ramlekha and her family. The World Vision folk did their best to facilitate this but the fact of the matter was that the village as a whole would not be dissuaded. We were followed by everybody on our way to Ramlekha’s house, highly curious eyes tracked our every movement, staring with curiosity, grinning and shying away if you made eye contact but popping back to keep ogling as soon as you looked away.

The village itself was simple and neat. There were no outward signs of poverty and unlike the Indian urban environments we have seen, the whole area was clean. Ramlekha, her parents and three siblings live in a colourfully painted mud-clad stone house not more than two metres wide and about six metres long. It was dark inside and significantly cooler than outside but there was also no light by which to see, I did notice a simple clay stove built into the ground. The front courtyard had been decorated with a coloured powder welcome sign for our visit. Though it was neat, it was also poor. Not poor in spirit, but poor in resources in a way I have not come across before.

A warm welcome

Imagine having have to choose between taking a day off work to take a sick child into town to a doctor (if in fact it was possible to get there at all) and not earning a day’s wages which would mean you couldn’t buy food to feed the family that day. That kind of poor. Ramlekha will spend her entire life in that village, the only time she might travel further would be for serious illness. The aspirations of the village families are for a light in their house or things of that nature.

Malnutrition for children in communities such as this throughout Rajasthan runs at a staggering 98%. Well it does for communities where organisations such as World Vision are not present. The Indian government does what it can, but remote communities can apparently be beyond their reach or resources or both. World Vision’s intent to focus on those communities was genuine and moving. The reality is that people suffer and die out here and there is no support, no voice to advocate on their behalf, until World Vision or another NGO steps in.  World Vision has recently commenced an ‘ambulance’ service to ensure that people can travel for help if it is needed – it is apparently used daily.

It is hard to wrap your head around the wealth hierarchy that exists within India let alone between India and other parts of the world. By Australians standards we are well off but not, I wouldn’t have said, obscenely rich. Yet here, I felt like Rupert Murdoch or James Packer. Even our comparatively wealthy and well off World Vision hosts could, I think, barely comprehend that we could travel the world for 12 months. They said little but their faces betrayed their thoughts.

Elsewhere throughout the village was tangible evidence of World Vision’s work in the form of water tanks and filters, toilets and bio-gas systems so that cooking by dried cow dung could be replaced with gas. Solar powered street lights were also scattered around and have apparently significantly improved safety, especially for women and children.

A water tank, with a climate change message and a solar light on the right

The installation and use of this infrastructure represents a hard won trust and relationship that has been established between the World Vision staff and the communities. We have been brought up knowing that sanitation and clean drinking water keep us healthy. The communities here have not witnessed this cause and effect and World Vision works diligently to develop their understanding which leads to acceptance and better health outcomes.

After a short tour of Ramlekha’s home we got down to the business of meeting each other. My mind still raced and I remember turning to Emma and asking, ‘what do we say?’. Face to face, and confronting the reality of how different our lives were it was really hard to know where to begin. But for all that, it wasn’t uncomfortable. The overarching joyful mood of the family along with the helpful World Vision staff to translate made for a fun interaction.

I think I asked a few inane questions to Ramlekha’s younger brother about school and what he liked studying and then had a go at asking them to teach us some short Hindi phrases, knowing that our clumsy efforts to repeat them would probably cause amusement – which it did.

Sport, it then occurred to me, is a fairly universal language and so we asked if they played cricket. Doesn’t everyone in India? Well no actually, these guys knew the game but not the rules. They were however appeased when we made clear that really didn’t matter. The cricket bat and ball we had given as a gift soon appeared and games followed.

A few brave souls leapt forward to play with us while the rest of the village lined the make-do pitch like spectators lining the finish of a Tour de France stage. Oliver bowled politely to our new friends and viciously to his father, but gaining ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of admiration when the chair offered for stumps was knocked clean out from behind me.

Oliver in action
Cricket action

Before we knew it our time was up. We gathered in front of Ramlekha’s home for photos where Ramlekha’s dad really caught my imagination. His happiness was so vivid as he stood proudly by our side. Ramlekha herself still seemed overwhelmed and so we did not try to force interaction. The rest of the village, still hovering all around, provided more than ample opportunity for it not to matter. We walked back to the cars lead once more by the beating drum and followed by our admirers and before long we were on our way. It was a special day for us, and we hope for Ramlekha, her family and the village as well.

Ramlekha and family

It can be hard when deciding from home which charity or international aid agency to support. You want to think that your money is doing some good on the ground and not being wasted on excessive administration. Goodness knows we filled out a mountain of paperwork to make this visit possible, but that could just be requirements of India’s bureaucracy which we have also grappled with elsewhere.

Despite the paperwork, the commitment and passion of the staff that accompanied us on this visit was undeniable. The Christian ethos underscoring the World Vision operation was real and heart warming in a way my skeptical views of the church at large is not. I can vouch for the tangible, on the ground infrastructure which is all there only because of World Vision’s work.

More than all that I know that an entire village forewent half a day’s wages that they could ill afford in order come and see us and express their appreciation. We are only one of 45 sponsors for this village but we may have well been paying for the whole lot the way we were received. If you can, sponsor a child. If you already have, sponsor another. We will be. You’re doing a world of good.