Driving to Dehradun

I knew I was truly in a different place when I walked out of the airport and saw a sign advertising an update on “Sports” with a picture of Kanye West underneath it. Boy, I was not in Kansas (just kidding, Chicago) anymore. I had the fortune of meeting lots of really nice people on the plane that helped me figure out how to get to my hotel, how to book my taxis, ect. I have never experienced so much outward kindness — as a girl traveling solo in India, I really needed it.

First, I spent a few days in Delhi. I hired a tour guide to take me to many sites around the city. He was very funny and very obsessed with decoding acronyms (BOOK means “Broad Ocean of Knowledge”). I liked to call them the India Dad Jokes. I got to go see the Red Fort and the Parliament buildings and the sites, but my favorite experiences by far were the visits to the Spice Market and the Sik Temple. The Spice Market was so full of colors and smells and, of course, curry, which I naturally had to buy. I also got to go on my first Rickshaw ride there (selfie to come)!

The Sik Temple took the cake, though. On the outside, it was more modest: a white building where many people were washing their feet and hands and other various limbs outside of it. Inside, though, took my breath away. It was filled with brilliant colors and clothes and gold encrusted everything, many people bowing towards the book in the center of the room. Chanting filled the air as one by one visitors touched the casing of the book, a blessing to take along with them on their travels. In another area of the temple, there was a mass production of food. 365 days a year, 24 hours a day volunteers work to feed anyone that stops by. Women were kneading bread on one side of the room while others handing out the meals as rows and rows of people ate on their charity. It was a magnificent sight to see.

After my adventures in Delhi, I made it to the Navdanya farm. At first, it took a bit of adjusting. Farms run at a slower pace in India simply because of the weather (it got so hot a few days ago that I had my first experience with heat exhaustion and couldn’t get out of bed for 2 days), so it was definitely a culture shock from the hustle and bustle of Delhi, much less a cultural shock between that and Chicago. The farm is a very unique place from the rest of India, almost a haven. Many international scholars come here to learn from the farm as well as the interns and managers that live there. I have made friends from different parts of India as well as New York, Wyoming, Minnesota, Canada, France, Switzerland and I just said good-bye to a friend that left for his next adventure who is from Australia.

Navdanya is definitely a place where “hippie culture” is big for those either visiting or staying for a long time, and at first I was very intimidated. I talked to my parents saying how the people here were just too cool for me, how I simply wasn’t on their level. Although I definitely consider myself a free spirit and am teased for being a hippie in my respective friend groups I had felt as if the people around me were just on a whole different ball field. Thankfully, that intimidation has slinked away and I have found my niche in this big international puzzle. Now I can just focus on being little, old, energetic Morgan!

Besides the people, the work is very fascinating too. At 8 am, the bell is rung and we trudge our way to the dining hall to eat breakfast (many of which have included dhosas — my favorite!). After breakfast, we have a morning circle in which one person shares a daily quote and another shares something else. This “something else” can range from a medicinal plant and its uses, fun games, ect. One girl kept getting nose bleeds so she researched and taught us what plants and objects on the farm can be used to reduce and stop nose bleeds (so resourceful!). After that, we meditate and chant “Om Shantih Shantih Shantih” which is a very special chant I can’t remember the name of currently. It really relaxes the mind in a way I’ve never experienced.

During our morning circle, we are given cleaning chores which we immediately complete and are told of the work we will do around the farm (this starts at 10am). My favorites are when we harvest. I feel like I’m looking for buried treasure as we all dive around the farm looking for the biggest potatoes or the curliest okra. This, surprisingly enough, brings out a lot of competition in me! (Oops. Maybe I need to meditate more.) Sometimes we weed or we mulch and soon we’ll be planting rice seed (supposedly really fun? More to come later on that.) Before lunch there is always chai time (I think we drink chai at least five times a day it’s a bit overwhelming) and then after lunch it’s mainly time for us to learn from each other and from the books we have in the library. Sometimes we’ll have activities planned like my friend Leo’s favorite game Twister, sometimes we don’t. It varies per day. Almost every day we play volleyball at 5:30, with dinner at 8pm. Considering I usually eat dinner at 5:30pm, this took some time (and a lot of snacks) to adjust. The coolest part about being on this farm is not only the international crowd it brings, but also the inspiring crowd it brings. Our conversations around the dinner table range from the atrocity that is the high prices of American university tuition to the latest research in seed preservation. It’s interesting to hear the viewpoints of so many different people with different background and stories and to hear how they want to make their impact on the world.

Navdanya only works with 3% of farmers in India, but despite how small that may seem it is still one million farmers. They teach children in classes how to take care of farms, they help families in the communities that have lost items–or even children in some very unfortunate cases–with a source of income and they harvest organic seeds to distribute to all of the farmers they work with (at least, as a starting point). Many times they have rallied against Monsanto for seed patents and have one simply with the sheer influence and respect they hold. On a different sidenote, I’m currently sitting in an internet cafe with very weak AC and desperately need to go get water, so I will have to write and update another time. Unfortunately, the ones in the future may have to be very short and sweet as my ability to get to the cafe is limited and the wifi at the farm is not looking like it will revive any time soon. Until then, know I am safe and sweaty, but very happy.

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About Morgan Fitzgerald

Morgan Fitzgerald is a freshman planning to double major in International Studies and Environmental Science in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. Morgan is passionate about exploring the tension between economic development and environmental sustainability, particularly in the realm of sustainable farming. Morgan will be spending five weeks volunteering with Navdanya located outside of Dehradun near Bharpur. Navdanya promotes biodiversity conservation, organic farming, the rights of farmers and the process of seed saving. Morgan will spend her days sowing seeds, cooking food and strengthening camaraderie with other local volunteers on the farm. She will also have the opportunity to explore the administrative side of Navdanya. Morgan’s research will focus on Nadanya as an organization and will consider how it goes about fulfilling its mission, the extent to which it is successful and other strategies it may employ.

4 thoughts on “Driving to Dehradun

  1. What a lovely update, Morgan! I can almost feel the heaviness of the heat and smell the spicy Chai. It sounds like you are having the adventure of a lifetime. Love that you are taking lots of great pictures – these will help you hold all these marvelous moments in your heart forever. I could not be happier for you. Stay safe and keep writing about your time in India (if not online then in a journal). Carpe diem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much Afton!! It was such an amazing journey(: I am finally able to post my final blog posts capturing my adventures. I can’t believe it’s over! It’s so weird to be home!


  2. Hi, Morgan! I really enjoyed reading your blog post about your experiences so far in India and at Navdanya! One of the reasons that I love travel is for that moment when the realization sinks in that we are, in fact, “not in Kansas anymore.” I am glad that you are staying true to yourself and not letting those who seem “too cool” to affect you. You are an amazing person with so much to offer everyone there! I can’t wait to read more and I loved all of your pictures!


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