Landing in Delhi in July 2009 I had mixed feelings about returning to India. During my first trip in 2006, I had contracted Dengue Fever in Delhi which resulted in an emergency flight home from Pakistan. Needless to say, I was nervous about a return visit.
However, I had already set the wheels in motion to start The Ethical Silk Company. It was now crucial to visit India to meet everyone who would be involved in the production process, manufacturing and tailoring. So, ready for the adventure, I convinced a good friend of mine to join me for some of the trip.
My first port of call was to visit my aunt in Chennai for a few days and to spend some time getting used to the intensity which Indian cities seem to be fuelled on. I then travelled to Hyderabad, to meet Kusuma Rajaiah (pictured below), founder of Ahimsa Silks. He showed me the ins and outs of the eco-friendly production process and introduced me to some of his staff.
Happy with the manufacturing end of things, I visited Theni in Tamil Nadu, where our products would be tailored. The Nano Nagle Tailoring unit is run by the Presentation Sisters as part of a Women’s Federation. It focuses on women’s empowerment through self-help groups. I had the privilege of meeting three tailoring ladies who would work on our products (including Sudha who has gone on to open her own tailoring shop in Theni). I also visited the Jeevan Jyothi AIDS Centre run by the Presentation Sisters. Seeing the limited resources and the hard work carried out there, I decided to pledge 5% of The Ethical Silk Company profits to the centre.
Once the business end of things was completed, happy with the manufacturing and production, it was time to get into travel mode and embark on an exciting six week trip north. One of my good friends, Elaine, met me in Delhi. We headed to Varanasi, a city by the Ganges which is sacred to Hindus. The atmosphere in this colourful and intense city was heightened by a total solar eclipse that we witnessed on the banks of the Ganges. This was an awesome experience.
From Varanasi, we moved further north to Amritsar, home of the Sikh’s Golden Temple. I had been to the Golden Temple in 2006 and it had made such an impression on me that I just had to return. All are welcome at the Golden Temple; to stay, to eat and to help with the running of this well oiled machine. It feeds on average 100,000 people per day and I left with the same admiration and high opinion of the Sikhs that I had arrived with.
The further north we went, the calmer everything seemed to get. To my surprise, I began to find India relaxing which is something I hadn’t anticipated. Next on our trip was Dharmsala, a hill town that is the centre of the Tibetan exile world in India and home to the Dalai Lama. It is here at Eternal Creation, a Fairtrade tailoring unit, that our products are now tailored.
Our next main stop was Srinagar, the main city in Kashmir. Sadly this disputed region doesn’t see as many tourists as it should. It is home to the beautiful Mughal Gardens and Dal Lake; however the pictures below don’t do them enough justice!
After a few days here, we took a bus journey to Leh, a stunning journey that followed the path of the Indus River and includes a 4,108m pass. This bus journey was not for the faint hearted - but the views hugely compensated for the knot of tension in my stomach at each oncoming vehicle and sharp bend on this winding road.
Following a few days sightseeing and relaxing in Leh we undertook a 3 day trek in the Himalayas. With our trusted map, we took on the challenge of the trek, guide free, enjoying the stunning scenery of the snow capped peaks of the mountains.
Another hair raising bus journey followed from Leh to Manali, passing through the Taglangla Pass (5,328m). Then it was back to the familiar bustle of an Indian town - Manali eased the transition from mountain respite to bustling Delhi. It was homeward bound from there, eager for another reason to visit India again.
Happy Indian Independence Day everyone! I’m hopeful that my depiction of my journey through India will encourage many of you to do the same.