To describe India in a short text is even more difficult than trying to describe Europe in a few lines. India is a sub-continent with 28 states which are all very different from each other - there is an incredible variety of landscapes ranging from tropical rain forests to deserts and high mountains, 1.2 billion people, 21 official languages with their own writing systems, an ethnical variety of Indoarians, Dravidians and indigenous tribes, as well as believers of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism and other religions.
Further, there is influence from Western culture which already started several hundred years ago through the Portuguese and particularly the British colonialization. And there is the developmental status of an emerging country: In India you will be faced with situations like in the poorest developing countries and at the same time with high technology and offers like in the leading cities of the western world. 35% of illiterates and the world's most qualified computer programmers live in India next to each other.
This makes India an exciting and difficult "to understand" country, and it makes one particularly addicted to visit it again and again. Even during a stay of several months it will not be possible to see and get to know everything that India has to offer.
Our main locations in India are at the moment Mumbai, Delhi & Gurgaon, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Setrawa (Rajasthan), Cochin and Munnar in Kerala/South India, and the Himalaya region near Shimla.
Mumbai (Bombay) is the economic centre of India and with 14-20 million people of the the largest megacities in the world. The city is centre of the finance industry, trade, economy and fashion in India. "Bollywood", by the amount of films produced annually, is the largest film industry in the world. Symbols of wealth can be found at many places in Mumbai, the real estate prices in certain parts of Mumbai are amongst the highest in the world.
The other side of the success story is extreme poverty. Every day hundreds of job-seeking people from all parts of India move to Mumbai and in many cases they settle down in slum areas which spread on all pieces of available land. In 2001, 54.1% of Mumbai's population were slum dwellers. The population density in the slums is oppresive (up to 340,000 people per square kilometre). Under such circumstances problems such as a lack of hygiene and diseases, environmental destruction, crime, alcoholism and prostitution are the consequence.
In Mumbai, we offer volunteering options related to these problems at charitable organizations, but also internships at leading companies of the city.
For most foreigners, Mumbai is probably not a city where they would love stay for the rest of their life - too crowded, noisy, hot and dirty. For a limited period of time however, it is surely exciting to be in Mumbai to understand and learn about the social processes of an emerging country's mega-metropolis.
The main languages of Mumbai are Marathi, Gujurati, Urdu and Hindi. English is spoken as a common language between speakers of the various mother tongues and is considered by the majority as their second language.
New Delhi & Gurgaon
New Delhi is India's second largest city and in comparison to Mumbai appears much more tidy, cleaner and less crowded - for the Commonwealth Games 2010 the city has been "tidied up" and numerous main streets have been broadened, unauthorized settlements have been removed and the traffic system has been improved. Being at the city's attractive green parks, you will forget that you are in the middle of a 17 million people megacity. Delhi has a modern and fast metro which since its opening in 2002 has been continuously expanded. The latest addition is the Airport Express.
With its many historical monuments, there is more tourism in Delhi than in Mumbai. Tourists are visiting for instance the medieval quarter of Nizamuddin, where we also offer placements.
The general problems of the city however are similar to those of Mumbai - a large number of Indians are moving from the empoverished rural areas to the city in search for a better life.
Gurgaon is neighbouring New Delhi in the south and is connected to the megacity by the Delhi Metro and an 8-lane motorway. Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport is located at the border between Delhi and Gurgaon. For these reasons many companies have chosen Gurgaon as their location.
Jodhpur, Jaipur, Setrawa (Rajasthan)
Rajasthan is located in the North-West of India and means "Land of the Kings". More than 2500 years ago, tribes were building cities and kingdoms were formed which existed until the British colonial time in the 19th century. Due to its natural beauty, the king's palaces and desert forts, today Rajasthan is one of India's most popular travel destinations.
Jaipur is famous for its jewelry industry which keeps more than 14,000 people busy producing jewelry from metal, stone and lac.
Jodhpur is called the "blue city" due to the colour of its houses. The city is overlooked by the mighty Meherangarh Fort. There is also a university in Jodhpur.
Setrawa is a village in the Thar desert, located around 100 km north of Jodhpur. A problem of Rajasthan is the scarcity of water. In the Thar desert, the only annual rains are pouring down in form of heavy thunderstorms during the months of July to September, when temperatures normally go up to 50 degree Celsius. Traditionally the water of these hot summer months are being stored in ponds that have the shape of the half moon, which are being called Johad. In the patriarchal society of the rural regions, particularly women are being denied access to education and social life.
Cochin (Kochi) and Munnar (Kerala)
In Malayalam, Kerala means "Land of the coconut palms". The tropical state in the south west of India is strong in traditions and culture. Ayurveda, the Kathakali performance, and Kalarippayat, the probably oldest martial art of the world, all come from Kerala. The society of Kerala however has also been shaped by the trade and the cultural exchange facilitated by the Indian Ocean's sailing vessels. As early as in the 4th century, traders brought Christianity and Islam to Kerala and therefore these two religions have far more followers in Kerala than in other parts of India: Around 55% of Kerala's population are Hindu, 25% Muslims and 20% Christians.
Kerala is very attractive and interesting for travelling, offering tropical beaches and islands, house boat tours on the "backwaters", impressive mountains (such as the tea plantation area of Munnar) and National Parks, as well as a rich cultural heritage.
The coastal city of Cochin with its around 600,000 inhabitants is spreading over several islands and peninsulas which are all connected via bridges. However, also ferries can easily and quickly bring you to the other parts of the city.
An important island is Fort Kochi, the historic old town, where you will be accommodated. In the past, Fort Kochi was an important Indian Ocean port. The Chinese in the 13th century, the Portuguese in the 15th century and the Dutch in the 17th century left their remains. The town of Fort Kochi with its old courtyards, walls, churches and palaces has a compelling flair which attracts cultural and wellness tourists, therefore there are many restaurants, hotels and guest houses, handcrafts and esoteric shops, as well as events. At night, it is particularly safe in Fort Kochi, as the Indian police is operating its own "tourism police station" with a quirky police uniform museum. The modern and big city part of Cochin is Ernakulam which is situated on the mainland and has a railroad station, many offices and large shops. Vipin Island is popular for beaches.
Extreme poverty (such as slums) doesn't exist in Kerala. Also the state's educational and health system is better established than in other parts of India. However, there is almost no industry and a relatively high rate of unemployment. The reason why Kerala is anyway better off than other states lies in the fact that for generations, a high percentage of the employable population have been migrating to the Gulf countries, sending back their relatively high salaries to Kerala. When they return to Kerala, they often start businesses such as hotels - tourism is strongly growing in Kerala. Problems for which we offer volunteering options in the social area include psychosocial problems, as the society of Kerala is putting high pressure on individuals, promoting success, wealth and prestige as the ultimate goals. There are also street children immigrating from other parts of India. Languages spoken in Kerala are Malayalam and English.
Our main location in the Himalaya is the village of Maheshu in the state Himachal Pradesh which is located at an altitude of around 2600 m above sea level. It is 350 km north of Delhi, the city of Shimla is a 30 minutes' drive by car. The area belonged to the Kingdom of Nepal until the British invaded.
The region is sparsely populated and characterized by natural forests, meadows, steep inclinations and small-scale agriculture. There is also a limited amount of tourism, particularly by Delhi citizens who come here over the weekend to do hiking, meditation or rock climbing, but also by foreign tourists who proceed deeper into the Himalaya or visit the Chail Conservation Area which is only 20 km away. You will find pure and fresh mountain air in a breathtaking mountain scenery. It is possible to travel to Maheshu by train from Delhi, whereby the last part of the way through the mountains will be done using a historical narrow gauge train, the Kalka Shimla Hill Railway, which is a UNESCO world heritage.
The people of the area are often humble and shy. Financially they are quite poor; however as everyone is owning his own land and doing farming, they have a much higher standard of living than many other Indians and they have no reason to move into the overpopulated megacities. The rural population is speaking Hindi. People with better education have a good command of English language.