This Break, Travel For A Cause.

A sneak peek into the golden city’s budding voluntourism project & why you need to jump on board right away!

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Does camping on the sand dunes with a sky full of stars sound like the perfect vacation? How about gorging on Dal Bati Churma and scouring royal castles?

Let’s say, you could make a change lives while you were at this? Wouldn’t that be it? Based out of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, Asude’s Voluntravel project combines the pleasure of travel with the joy of volunteering, offering unforgettable experiences.

Cashing on the rising popularity of socio-tourism, this pilot project caters to rural schools in the desert land. Spearheaded by Mumbai boy, Vyankatesh Kharage, it has already welcomed two batches of volunteers so far.

You might wonder, why the educational sector in Rajasthan even needs you. After all, it’s one of the best fairing states out of the problematic BIMARU (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) as far as literacy goes.

At the turn of this century there were 109,189 schools across Rajasthan. Thousands, if not hundreds of them were spread across villages so no child walks more than a kilometre to reach school. Technically, Rajasthan has a tolerable number of schools for the 11 crore+ children in the region. Even so, illiteracy remains a looming issue in the region. With a dismal literacy rate of 67.1%, it fails to meet even the average literacy rate in the country (which is 74.04%).

So obviously, the problem lies somewhere just above the surface. There is a severe dearth of qualified teachers in many parts of the state. Even today, children in rural schools are often first generation students. With no teachers or elders to guide them, many drop out, attend class irregularly or discontinue due to sheer lack of interest.

But why should you care? Right? Out of India’s 133.92 crores, Rajasthan constitutes to a whopping 7.7 crore people, a vast chunk of who are children and youth. And them being uneducated and unequipped could spell a disaster for the country’s future. However, truth be told, that’s not why you should care. You should care because being a part of their growth brings a kind of happiness that compares to nothing.

Simran Barki, a volunteer from Himachal Pradesh would agree to that when she says, “It was all so overwhelming that I am looking forward to more such work.” Or Bhargav Joshi, who says, “I learnt that even a little effort goes a long way for a noble cause.”

The idea is simple- anyone above the age of 21 can sign up for their week long program. Once you have been shortlisted, all you need to do is land at Jaisalmer to be a part of an extraordinary adventure.

You will be required to spend a minimum of 4-5 hours in the designated school. Here, you will meet your ‘students’ and the chirpiest companions for the week. You will be in charge of grades 3rd to 5th, wherein you will interact and teach the kids. Far from your usual texbook rote learning, this is where you can go all out and use your time with them creatively. Be it painting, photography or meditation, you can share from a vast spectrum of topics.

But that’s not all; apart from being a priceless experience, Voluntravel also gives you a chance to explore the beautiful landscapes of Jaisalmer. The best part? Free stay! Perfect for budget travellers or even others who are looking to spend time in the “Golden City,” it ensures you a spot at a designated Hostel while you’re there. With an addition of mid day meals that you can share with the lovely kids you will be teaching.

So, what I’m asking is, while your next trip could be anywhere on the map will it be as enriching as this one? And for those who can imagine the great things you could do for these young ones, I also ask, “If not now, when? If you you? Who?”

Tame Your Period With Menstrual Cups

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While travelling in a crowded Mumbai local train today, I happened to look out the window.  It wasn’t one of those rosy evenings when I had my headphones on, pretending to be an 80’s actress. Instead it was a very humbling and thought provoking one. What I saw was a young woman, not older than 25 perhaps, drying little patches of cloth. But what why should I get all riled up about patches of cloth, you ask? They were drying ‘menstrual rags,’ (pieces of old cloth used to block menstrual blood.)

In a day an age when India is capable of sending 104 satellites shooting into space, building the world’s biggest statue and claiming to be a financial epicenter; I fail to understand why are there still women in a metropolitan like Mumbai with no access to basic period products. Why did a young woman have to walk across her slum to dry a piece of unhygienic cloth? A cloth that could potentially cause irreparable health complications? A little reading told me that over 77% of women across India use this method to deal with their period, every single month. That’s when I suddenly remembered my menstrual cup.  I thought that writing about it, could be my little way of helping you make better and informed decision about how you deal with your period.

I’ve used the menstrual cup last month, but I can say without a doubt that it changed my life. Nope, I’m not exaggerating. It really did. Like most women in our country, I was only told of sanitary pads and menstrual rags when I first attained puberty. For years, I used sanitary pads without knowing its harmful side- effects and the fact that were in fact other alternatives available in the market. I suffered skin darkening, rashes, infections, skin irritations, inconvenient disposal, oh, and polluted the environment thinking I had no choice. So obviously, 10 years later when I found out about tampons and menstrual cups I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe that no one ever mentioned these to me!

But why didn’t anyone tell me about this? As I traced my steps backwards, I realized that there were three main reasons. One- Many women in India were themselves not aware of these alternatives, my mom being one of them. Two- Some women who knew about them were anxious to use them because of lack of free information about their usage. Three- (the most stupid reason) Most women who did know of them thought they were unnatural, vulgar and immoral, because they had to be inserted into your vagina. They believed that you would certainly lose your virginity if you used a tampon or a menstrual cup.

At the time I didn’t realize it, but now I do. What I understood was how deep-rooted this issue was. It was not just about the tampon/ menstrual cup per se. It was about the fact that a woman’s chastity could be attached to an object. Patriarchy aside, it proved that some women would rather suffer the agony of uncomfortable period all their lives than use these alternatives.

“Screw that,” I told myself one day, and got myself a pack of tampons, after reading tons of articles about it online. Unfortunately, I found it very uncomfortable. I felt that I never found the right brand with just the right absorbency, it made my insides feel dry, it was also inconvenient to replace/change it and dispose off in public and I was still polluting the environment with it.

So a few months down, I got the acclaimed menstrual cup. A friend of mine was already head over heels in love it with it, so I thought it only made sense to give it a go myself. Oh boy, was that the best decision of my life!

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So here’s how I think a menstrual cup is better than all other period hygiene products-

  1. It is much cheaper than pads or tampons. You spend an average of Rs.100 on pads or Rs.150 on tampons, or more depending on the brand you prefer EVERY SINGLE MONTH. On the other hand, you only have to invest in a menstrual cup once every two or three YEARS. That’s a whole lotta money saved that you can rather use during your PMS binges! You can buy it here- BUY MENSTRUAL CUP
    1. It’s super easy to use. Doesn’t have applicators or other confusing elements like tampons.
    1. It gets rid of the period stench that usually lingers during ‘those days,’ of the month
    1. You cannot have rashes or any skin irritations since it has no contact with the outer labia
    1. It lasts upto 24 hours for women with a medium flow. You don’t have to change it every time you pee or poop (as long as you take precautionary measures.)
    1. You will had zero issues cleaning it in public toilets, because all you need to do is rinse it with water and insert it right back in.
    1. You can indulge all your favourite activities without hesitation without fear of leaks or discomforts.
  1. Finally, one product that can reduce menstrual waste and cause the most minimal damage to the environment.   

But having said that, I’d also say that the first step to using a menstrual cup is for a woman to be aware and comfortable with her body. Simply put, if you don’t know the difference between the urethra and the vaginal canal, you’re not ready for it yet. But that’s no cause for alarm. You can always read up on multiple articles about the female anatomy to figure out what really goes on down there! 

Also, these are a few tips I think will help your usage a lot smoother-

    1. Use a water based lubricant for application if you’re having issues inserting the cup. It helps in gliding the cup by reducing any friction within the vaginal canal.  
    1. Don’t freak out about over-cleaning your cup. No, you don’t need to boil it every day of your period. No, you don’t need special soaps or disinfectants to clean it. All you need to do is thoroughly wash it with clean water to rinse it.   
    1. Use the Punchdown Fold (also known as the Shell Fold) to make insertion easier. If you’re wondering what it looks like, here’s a picture for your reference.push down fold menstrual cup
    1. Always make sure you have a sink or commode to empty the period blood where you can flush it out. Period blood has a lot of bacteria which can go airborne if left unattended, so make sure to leave no trace of it.
  1. The best way to insert the cup is standing up, with your legs apart in a slight squat. It helps widen your pelvis and in turn your vaginal canal.

What I’m saying is, maybe you were one of the millions of women who didn’t know the existence of alternative period products so far. But now you do. Don’t let years of lies and wrong teachings keep you away from the better things in life. Because at the end of the day you can choose to have power over your period and not the other way around! So, you go girl! 

P.S. Any questions, doubts or clarifications you need, you can reach out to me in the comments section.  

A Slice Of Patiyala In Mumbai

I’m a sucker for authentic delicacies. Be it Eromba from the North East, or Thecha from the farmlands of Maharashtra, I love trying local favourites.

Recently on my way home, I came upon an obscure little street stall that instantly had all my attention. With mounds of meat frying away in woks, the stall’s bright red signboard read, “Lucky Patiyala Shahi Chicken Corner.”  I craned my neck out of my rickshaw to get a better look, but there were too many people crowding the tiny stall. Day after day, I would see people flock upto this spot. Some would park their cars nearby and enjoy freshly fried chicken on their bonnets, some would get it parceled, some would just stand nearby and gorge on plates after plates of the hot stuff. Finally, I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about.

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The stall was manned by two middle aged men in turbans and a lady who seemed to in charge of handling the money. One of the gentlemen would marinate the chicken and the other would fry them. That’s when I also saw fish in their menu. I’ve heard so much about the Amritsari fish pakoda, and I knew this was as close as I could get to tasting the real deal in Mumbai. So without much ado I first ordered a portion of Rawas Fish Fry, Chicken Popcorn, Chicken Soup and some Chicken Pakodas. All to-go.

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The month old food stall is already popular in the locality and also attracting people from other parts of the city. One couple had driven over 14 kms just to munch on their fried Chicken Drumsticks! The owners said they’re originally from Patiala but settled in Mumbai. The marinades and masalas are all homemade, typical Punjabi style.

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This very well reflected in the food. Although the dishes I ordered all looked the same, they all had very distinct and unique flavours. The fish was succulent, deboned and had a tangy tinge. The Chicken popcorn had milder spices in it and was dusted with cumin powder instead of chaat masala like you’d find in a Chicken tikka or tandoori. The Chicken Pakoda was my personal favourite. It was perfectly crisp, not one bit oily and tasted heavenly when eaten with the mint chutney that came with it.

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The Chicken soup on the other hand, was such a delightfully refreshing break from your Manchows and Tom Yums! It had hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper corns, which made it perfect for a cold-ish Mumbai evening.

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You could pair the chicken and fish with pav  if you want. But I’d suggest otherwise. Crack open a can of coke on the side and I guarantee you a happy tummy!

The dishes are priced between Rs.80-Rs.250, so you can take your pick according to how much you’re willing to splurge.

 

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Only catch here is- this stall remains open only in the evenings between 7pm-12am and mostly they run out of chicken even before that. So if you’re planning to get yourself a Platter of Patiyala, you better keep this in mind!

Where:

Lucky Shahi Patiyala Chicken Corner, Near Holy Cross School Mira Road. 

I Knew

When do you know it’s love?

I used to think I’d instantly recognize love in a crowd

I was wrong.

The first time I set my eyes on love, I got defensive.

I almost thought it was an intruder, only set on plundering the best bits of me.

I shut my windows and fortified my walls.

I held myself back. I told myself I had to “tread cautiously.”

But all love wanted, was to make me laugh and see me gleam.

Love wanted to stay awake late nights to talk politics and world peace.

I didn’t understand love.

I couldn’t comprehend why it would see the worst in me and still stay.

Love didn’t try to strip me naked of my emotions and pull the no-strings-attached move.

And I couldn’t, for the life of me understand why!

For the first time, love stayed after promising it would.

For the first time, love held me as I cried and listened to what I had to say instead of just ‘hearing.’

In all its Glory, love laid itself bare and exposed it’s vulnerability.

For the very first time, love looked at my scars and wasn’t intimidated by the past that lay behind them.

I thought the movies had it all figured out- how love ought to behave.

Turns out, love doesn’t confine within the squares of definition.

Love didn’t look like anything or anyone I thought it would resemble.

Now that I think of it, I certainly didn’t fall in love as they say;

I grew into it- one day at a time, until the day I knew we were meant to be.

Have Fun The Organic Way At This Eco-Farmhouse

Merely two hours away from the bustle of Mumbai is the perfect weekend getaway. Nestled amongst the mountain ranges of the western ghat, ‘Hideout Farm,’ is an organic farmhouse run by Hemant and Sangeeta Chhabra for over a decade now.

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Hemant and Sangeeta Chhabra

Complete with tribal style villas that are fueled by solar energy, sheltered by thatched roofs and adorned with rustic woven furniture, Hideout glamorizes simple organic living in every way.

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Individual rooms at Hideout
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Main Lounge Area

Hideout is located very close to Jawhar, a village that houses one of the few remaining tribal settlements in Maharashtra. The Chhabras have created a setup of eco-tourism wherein visitors get a chance of interacting with the locals and also live life their way during their stay in Hideout.

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What I personally loved about the place was that you are completely cut off from the outside world. You can trek around the hilly countryside, or chase hens and butterflies; pet cows or collect wild berries and flowers if you wish. You can choose to take a dip in a hidden lake or stargaze laying beside a bonfire. The possibilities are endless!

What surprised me was that even though I didn’t have access to the internet or television I still had so much to do at Hideout.

Pets all around

Visit to the organic pineapple farm farm
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Picking wild berries from the orchard
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But the highlight of my visit to the farmhouse was the food! Pure, delicious, organic food. A luxury that none of us have in the city. I for one am a hardcore meat eater and when I heard that Hideout serves only vegan food, I was taken aback.DSC_0191

But my disappointment only lasted till I had my first meal there. From piping hot aloo paranthas, to pulav and moroccan salad to chocolate and jaggery laddoos, I didn’t miss meat at all. In fact, the meals made me feel lighter and more active during the course of the day while I was there. The Chabbras also indulged us by us by sharing the recipes for their infamous pickled veggies.

Preparation of organic food

Apart from all of this, I could also avail of the special Neuro-Massage Therapy by Hideout’s in house masseuse. The massage left me feeling energized and centered.

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Image used for representative purposes Source

At hideout, we were encouraged to practice meditation and be mindful of our environment by the hosts. And trust me when I say this, in a place where you can only hear birds chirping and trees swaying to the breeze, even sitting idle feels like meditation!

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I also had the chance to visit a local artist who made paper mache sculptures out of organic materials and witnessed the entire procedure that goes behind its making.

What’s more? The artist was kind enough to sell me a few pieces for a huge discount!

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Oh, and if you are a fan of organic products, the Chabbras have a stock of wild organic honey, lentils and jaggery that you can purchase from them.

The goodbyes were the hardest bit of my trip, because I really didn’t want to part with such a beautiful slice of heaven. Nonetheless, I was happy that I was returning home re-energized, mentally and physically with priceless memories and warm hugs from the Chhabras!

I’d definitely suggest everyone to visit this gem of a place at least once or more and be a part of the Hideout Experience! For more information you can check out http://hideout.co.in/

Womanhood in 2018

A few days back I had started a photo-series where women spoke about what it is to be a woman in today’s day and age. Is it inconvenient as many would say? Is it empowering? Is it tiring? Is it confusing? Well, womanhood cannot be boxed into any definition because the expressions of womanhood are infinite. Through this photo-series I aim to tap into those infinite expressions and discover how a woman in 2018 perceives the idea of being a woman and womanhood as a whole.

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Part II

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Nandana James, 21.

It’s a rather strange time to be a woman. While feminist discussions and assertions are abound, instances of sexism are just as rife. Seems like the wrath of patriarchy is going to linger around, but fortunately, people are willing these days to engage in pertinent discussions.

dsc_001511388637.jpgNandana is a journalism student.

 

Shubhita Chawla, 22.

I’ve come to the realization that being a woman comes with its own set of responsibilities- To help other women grow, to be a good human first, to have the strength to follow your dreams through to name a few. There are so many facets to our being. Mothers, sisters, wives, caregivers, goddess, we can choose to be one, or choose to be all of them. But our biggest responsibility is towards ourselves. To love our flaws and overlook our insecurities. To embrace our vulnerabilities and to flaunt our scars with pride.

 Shubhita is an aspiring media professional.

 

The perception of ‘womanhood’ in today’s day and age can be different to different women. In the upcoming blogs I will bring out more such descriptions about how the woman of 2018 perceives womanhood.

What It Means To Be A Woman

On the 8th of March we celebrated International Women’s Day, like we do every year. In college, me and all the other girls in my class were given a packet of chilli power with a message that said, “Spice up the eyes of all those words dare harass you.” Looking at that packet one couldn’t help but think that we live in a society where we actually might have to use this on someone one day or another. We live in a world where some women are still not allowed to venture outside without a male companion by their side. A world that sometimes looks down on you for taking certain decisions or living a certain way of you are a woman. But on other hand, we now live in a world where women are CEOs of muti-nationals and Vice Chancellors of countries. The same world that thought women were incompetent to drive (Read UAE), now thinks we deserve the right to drive if we choose to.

Being a woman in today’s world is a complicated affair. We are constantly processing threats and looking at infinite opportunities all at the same time. It’s not all great for us out in the world, but it’s not all that bad either.

So what exactly does it mean to be a woman in 2018?

I asked a few women and this is what they had to say.

And I’d like to present it to you in a three part photo-series.

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PART I

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Zoya Mateen, 22.

For me, womanhood is simply the art of becoming. It’s an inward journey rather than an outward one. I choose to give very little, or perhaps no importance to what someone might choose to identify me as. Sometimes a Muslim, sometimes a woman, the daunting expectations that come when you combine the two. Add a dash of modernity and a spoonful of arbitrary judgements on what I wear what I eat say or think and I already feel like I’m going crazy!
So no. I refuse to listen to them. I refuse to let them choose for me. My battle is within me.

I’m proud of who I am. my gender, faith or thinking have very little role to play individually in making me feel like that. Womanhood for me is this act of faith in yourself. For whoever I am and whatever I can be. I have the strength to accept myself and in the process learn, learn and keep learning

dsc_0061228821267.jpg Zoya is an artist.

Prashasti Awasthi, 21.

Being a woman is a tiring job especially when you advocate feminism. One is always misunderstood.
Having said that I can’t trade being a woman with anything else. It is the most powerful and amazing feeling. We are endowed with the quality of a nurturer and an empath. I cherish it as much as I cherish my physical growth.
I feel fortunate to be chosen to be a woman.

dsc_0047714435329.jpg Prashasti is a war journalist in the making.

 

 

Well, one thing we can agree on is that ‘womanhood’ cannot be defined. It can be perhaps be perceived in different ways by different people. In the upcoming days I will be showcasing more such women sharing their perceptions on womanhood, and what it is to be a woman in 2018. Stay tuned!