My stay in Delhi and the trip to CHIRAG

     Hello all! I have not been in India even a week, but my plane flight from Brussels to New Delhi feels like such a long time ago. So much has happened since my first blog post. Arriving in Delhi I do not know what I was expecting, but what I experienced was an immediate culture shock! I knew the culture and way of life was very different in India and through CASI and mentors I had received some training about the regions and areas I would be visiting, but there are just some things you cannot prepare for.

     For example, on my drive from the airport to the hotel at 2:30am I was nervous my taxi driver was half asleep because he was driving in the middle of the high way completely ignoring the blatantly obvious dashed white lines on the road; after a couple of minutes I realized everyone of the road was doing the same. In India it seems like the rules of the road are more like guidelines. In addition, honking is a lot more prevalent; every time a driver passes a car, or a pedestrian on the road they honk, often multiple times. It is almost like an informal mode of communication between drivers, where as in the US honking is rarely used, and only when the other driver has done something wrong.

     My stay in Delhi was short, but very memorable. I got to see lots of sights such as the Red Fort, Akshardham Temple, India Gate, Jama Masjid as well as explore the endless supply of street markets and shops. We went to Janpath Market, Hauz Khas Village, Khan Market, and Lajpat Nagar Central Market. It was quite an experience to try bartering and bargaining with the shop keepers. In big cities in India it is customary to bargain down the price of goods, especially because they like to hike the price up for tourists! Shobana and I bought Kurtas and other traditional Indian clothes to wear at our NGO and for our stay in Delhi. It is very important for women to travel with others and to cover up when they go out. Attached is a picture of Shobana and I sitting at the bus terminal in Delhi in traditional Indian garments.



     Delhi was not only a great experience because of the sights and markets we got to visit, but because of the travel complications thrown our way… Originally we were supposed to take a train to our NGO, CHIRAG, but unfortunately our tickets were not able to be confirmed due to the high demand for transportation in the summer months. Instead Jason, Shobana, and I were sent on a whirlwind adventure to find an alternative way to get to the foothills of the Himalayas. After two trips to the bus station (which can be described as something very close to apocalyptic chaos), lots of back and forth texts/emails with Aparna, and traditional Indian bartering we were able to secure three tickets on an overnight nine hour bus ride to Nainital. From there a driver met us and took us on another two hour car ride to our NGO. We had finally arrived!!!

     CHIRAG, the Central Himalayan Rural Action Group, is an NGO that looks to better the villages and communities in the Uttarakhand region of India through Education, Health Care, Natural Resource Management, and Livelihood support. Inside of these four main focuses there are various branches which focus on more specific problems within each region. For example inside of Natural resource management CHIRAG looks to improve soil and water conservation, community forestry, fodder development and spring recharge.

    When I first stepped out of the car to look at the place I would call my home for the next 10 weeks I was taken aback by the sublime view. CHIRAG is situated in a valley in the foothills of the Himalayas. I have attached a picture, but words as well as images cannot describe the breathtaking beauty of the place I am in. It is like a mountainous region you see in photographs and dream of visiting, but do not think actually exists. The mountains cannot be seen too well in this picture because right now there are some controlled forest fires in the area. One of the big agricultural pulls of the region is the sap from pine trees, they collect the sap and sell it to be made into turpentine. To extract more sap the farmers create small forest fires, it causes the trees to “sweat” out the sap.


     Over the past couple of days Jason, Shobana and I have been exploring and getting ourselves affiliated with the organization. We have been going on lots of hikes to the near by villages such as Sitla and Rita. In addition, we have been meeting employees and other interns at CHIRAG as of now there are three other girl interns, and four other boy interns aside from our small Penn group. They are from all over India, as well as Canada, and some German and French interns are expected to come within the next couple of days.

      Over the next couple of days Jason, Shobana and I will be looking into what project inside of CHIRAG we would like to work on while we are here for the next couple of weeks. Also, starting tomorrow we will be doing a home stay, which means we will each be paired with a family in a close by village and living with them for the next seven days. I am very excited for the experience and cannot wait to see the traditions and customs of an agricultural family in India. Hopefully someone in the family speaks a little bit of English!

Talk to you all in a week!



A view of the Jama Masjid from inside its central square


A drive by view of Akshardham Temple, you cannot take pictures once inside.

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About Alexandra Iqbal

I am an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. This summer I am traveling to the northern region of India where I will be working for CHIRAG - The Central Himalayan Rural Action Group for 10 weeks. I will be working with micro finance and supply chain management of the fruit cooperatives in the region. I am looking forward to an exciting and cultural experience this summer! My journey in India starts on May 17th when I arrive in New Delhi.