Published: 04th September 2018
If you volun-tour with TRIP to Change India, you could help a village better their lives
Traveller Niyog Krishna, through his NGO Manthan is set to start an initiative that will change the face of volunteering tourism in India
You're not qualified to be called a millennial if you haven't discussed a holiday with your friends on a WhatsApp group. Most of you might have voted to go to Goa, or Manali, or maybe Gokarna. But the next time you come across this conversation, how about you plan a trip to Koumik or Kotri?
Where are these places? What do you get to see there? Even I hadn't heard of them before I spoke to Niyog Krishna. A hitchhiker, who'd give you new #Wanderlust goals, this 26-year-old made it to the news last year for being the first Indian to get selected for the Fjällräven Polar, which is considered one of the toughest expeditions in the world, to the Arctic. Niyog, who is also among the board members of Manthan, an NGO that works for the welfare of the people of Kotri, has started a campaign called TRIP to Change India.
So what is TRIP to Change India all about? "It is a travel volunteering project, where travelers get to visit the lesser known, yet beautiful villages in the interior parts of the country, interact with the people there and help them in solving the issues that they face. This way, they get a great amount of exposure, help find feasible solutions and you get a new travel experience," says Niyog.
It is a travel volunteering project, where travelers get to visit the lesser known, yet beautiful villages in the interior parts of the country, interact with the people there and help them in solving the issues that they face
If this is something that interests you, all you have to do is get in touch with the NGO through their Facebook page or their website by filling a google registration form where you have to let the organisers know the reason why you wish to be a part of the programme and what skills do you wish to offer the people. The first batch of volunteers is yet to join, even though the programme was implemented for a group of fellows from Australia and Britain respectively.
They stayed for three weeks each, where they got to live with the locals and learn their issues. Niyog expects everyone to commit to a minimum of a week to this programme. Also, they do not take any registration fee from people.
Water's here: A reservoir in Kotri
How did it begin? Niyog's friend, Ambika Bharadwaj, is a travel blogger who constantly treks to the Himalayas. During one of those treks, she happened to meet a little girl named Kisha, who lives near Spiti valley. Kisha had a packet of biscuits and despite biscuits being a rarity, she took one from the pack and offered the rest to Ambika and her teammates. "Ambika narrated the entire story to me. The kindness that this little one displayed really touched the two of us. We decided to trek together to Kisha's village taking a lot of chocolates and biscuits for her and her friends," Niyog tells us.
But that is when he realised that these children would need more than chocolate. "They were to grow up in a patriarchal and casteist society without any exposure and education. This broke our hearts," says Niyog. That thought prompted the two to start this initiative to help the children. If at least one traveller could spend a few hours with them and teach them at least an alphabet, that would make a difference, they thought. "We realised that Kisha, and a thousand other young minds, may never reach the horizon of literacy. On one hand, school and quality education is a dream seldom realised by Indian childhoods, especially in the remote areas," Ambika writes about the experience, in one of her blogs.
Little joys: Kisha, who inspired Niyog and Ambika to start the project
Last year, before the polar expedition, Niyog hitchhiked from his hometown in Kerala to Rajasthan. That was when he happened to meet Tejaram, the founder of Manthan. "Despite being located in the middle of a desert, Kotri is lush green. There are water bodies too, which is why so many nomads settled here and started farming years ago," says Niyog.
But as time passed, the water bodies dried up and drought hit the village, following which many people were forced to leave it and move to big cities as unskilled labourers. Also, since the place is close to Sambhar Lake, the salt mafia was rampant here. So was the granite mafia. "Not just that. Patriarchy and extreme casteism played a huge role in dividing the people here. That escalated the problem of the water crisis. That was when Tejaram ji decided to start Manthan," Niyog narrates.
Right spot: Ambika and Tejaram in Kotri
Niyog also tells us about people who don't lock their doors at night. "They are really poor and aren't afraid of being looted. But the pipes connecting their water tanks are always locked," he says, highlighting the importance of water in this community. Touched by the work done by Manthan, Niyog decided to spend a few extra weeks there when Tejaram asked him to become a board member. Niyog happily agreed.
Post that, they have successfully set up a lot of night schools to educate the women and children of the village. But Niyog knew that the issues there needed deep-rooted solutions. "So why not get volunteers from outside and teach the community members here? A lot of tourists are involved here. We want them to take away a lot more than they expect, but also let them have fun and be productive in helping the people here. It is a beautiful experience," he says.