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Family Travel editor, Jane Anderson immerses her family in the culture of rural Rajasthan in Northern India
If you have ever considered a holiday where your children get the opportunity to culturally immerse themselves in a destination and lend a hand to help people less fortunate than themselves, I would highly recommend heading to the Araveli Mountains of northern Rajasthan with Me to We, a Canadian Charity that works closely with Audley Travel in the UK.
Here myself and my children, Scarlett, 13 and Fin, 10, got the chance to visit a rural primary school in Kalthana village, in this harsh desert state where it’s estimated that only 5% of rural primary schools have access to clean water and sanitation. Illiteracy is also high, especially among girls who traditionally are kept at home to work.
Me to We takes years to integrate with local communities and work with them to improve education, clean water and sanitation, health, alternative income and livelihood and agriculture and food security.
Me to We not involved with any orphanages, which organisations such as JK Rowling’s Lumos Foundation are campaigning to eradicate along with the detrimental voluntourism that’s often attached to them.
Our arrival at the school we are greeted with drums, flower garlands and sandalwood tilakas (third eye), and soon we’re tying red cotton bracelets and receiving prayers from the local priest surrounded by 40 beautiful young brown pairs of eyes. We sit in a new classroom built by Me to We for the school. It’s next to a crumbling old one and the contrast is stark.
Scarlett and Fin get to play a board game with the children, discover how to write their names in Hindi and are honoured to serve the children a lunch of chapatis and spicy dahl.
We are told that many children walk miles to school, but Me to We has helped to supply bikes to some of the children.
We also learn how proud the school is of their covered toilets, especially for girls who would often stop coming to school because of the lack of facilities. It all seems so basic to us, but it’s a great lesson for myself and my children who take all this for granted.
Whilst we have the feel good factor of helping out at the school and later mixing cement and laying bricks at a secondary school under the supervision of local builders, it’s the money we pay to come on this trip that’s the real help. Half of Me to We’s net profits are donated to the WE charity. The other half is reinvested to grow the enterprise and social mission. However that’s not to downplay the usefulness of our visit. Naveen, Me to We’s community mobilizer, tells us that local women and girls interacting with independent Western women is hugely empowering for them.
We are staying in the beautiful Araveli Cottages and Tented Camp which of course is high luxury compared to the local villages.
But as Me to We charity founder Craig Kielburger says, “Our trips are for those who want to experience meaningful service but in the evening have a warm bed, a beautiful comfortable shower, a good meal and a glass of wine.”
During our stay we are treated to early morning yoga with Rikki on a pavilion overlooking the Araveli Mountains and tie-dye and block printing sessions by Yunus whose family has been passing on these magical skills for 700 years. With just three natural dye colours, it seems like magic happening before our eyes.
Local ladies come and treat us to henna on our hands and feet, and we’re measured for saris by a local tailor. A camel ride through the countryside is another highlight followed by a visit to Lake Hamirpal where we feed the sacred catfish on the steps of the Hindu Temple of Charbhuja Nath before taking part in morning prayers. All these activities bring income to local crafts people in an area that otherwise wouldn’t benefit from tourism.
A boon for Scarlett and Fin is a spot of Bollywood dancing with Jay and Dinesh from the Thriller Dance Company, finalists in Dance India Dance, the equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent. The moves are fast and furious and they’re soon in fits of giggles trying to keep up. They also love making samosas with the charismatic Chef KK in his vast kitchen at the camp who treats us to delights such as lime smoothies.
They also love making samosas with the charismatic Chef KK in his vast kitchen at the camp who treats us to delights such as lime smoothies, spicy soups and tasty curries.
And on our final night we’re helped into our new saris by lovely local sisters, and treated to a feast of Indian food and a display of local dancing, with painted ladies balancing pots on their heads and standing on the edge of bowls whilst keeping the rhythm going.
If ever there was a trip to fire your children’s imaginations and make them aware of those less fortunate than themselves, this is it.
Four nights at Me to We Araveli Cottages and Tented Camp with all meals and experiences costs from £5,740 for a family of four (two adults, two children), or it can be booked as part of a 12-day tailor-made itinerary through northern India with Audley Travel (01993 838300), including four nights at Me to We’s Araveli property (all meals and experiences included), one night in Shahpura, two nights in Jaipur, one night in Agra to see the Taj Mahal and two nights in Delhi (all B&B) from £3,995 per person based on four travelling (two adults, two children), sharing two rooms. Includes private, guided excursions in each destination, international and one domestic flight as well as a private vehicle and driver throughout.
If you’re nervous of travelling to India with kids, book with a tour operator such as Audley who look after you every step of the way yet give you the freedom have genuine experiences and discoveries.
Visit your GP six months before travelling to check up on what immunisations you all need and get them done well in advance of travel.
The best time to go
From October to March after the monsoon and when the desert sun isn’t so intense.