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Nishant Lokanathan: Student Report from 2018 Alternative Summer Break to India

As an Indian American, I have traveled to India several times during my life, particularly the southern part of the country. Between catching up with my family and sightseeing, each trip has been its own adventure. Something unique about this trip was a chance to see the country from a new perspective that I had not yet experienced.

Upon arriving at the village where we were going to work, I was slightly hesitant because I was unsure about what to expect. Traditionally, when I had traveled through India, I always expected to see extreme levels of poverty and helpless people. After meeting a few of the villagers, I immediately knew it was quite the opposite of what I expected. After a lovely welcoming ceremony, we were able to mingle with the villagers, and although there was quite a large language barrier, I could see how happy they were and immediately I felt welcomed as an honored guest.

Musicians from Indian Village
Native musicians serenaded us upon our arrival

One of my big motivators for going on this trip was the engineering project itself. Unfortunately, the project that was advertised was not necessarily the one for which we had signed up. Nevertheless, the project explained to us was equally exciting with the finished result being a reservoir system that can sustain local agricultural area and animals nearby, as well as a common area for the village and a dining area.

As the first official volunteers to work on this project, I was quite excited to help in hopes we could really progress this vision. Our coordinator in India, Ravinder, was quite charming and helpful and was so wonderful to work with. The work was probably some of the most toiling labor I have ever done. Although it may not sound so terrible, it was some exhausting work, not to mention it was always sunny and around the high nineties Fahrenheit which definitely does not help.

Nishant Looks on as Alisa Uses Brick-maker

First thing I worked on was making the mud bricks. We used a machine that packed a measured amount of mud cement mixture into it and then compressed it with a lever. We all thought it would be relatively easy and we were all so very wrong. The first time I pulled the lever I don’t think it moved at all, it took all my strength just to make a single brick.

After about five blisters, I decided to help plant trees because that sounded a little easier, but boy was I wrong. I never thought planting trees would be so frustrating, but when you’re constantly trying to avoid sliding down the side of the hill, while moving literally dozens of large stones out of the hole, you get a little annoyed. Also, after we finished one tree, we went on to the next and then on to the next, as if there were infinite trees to be planted.

Nishant Lokanathan and Sheela Discuss Work Site

The last thing I worked on was clearing the location of a future reservoir. There were two of us using one curved knife with no handle to cut down many trees and bushes. This was by far the most fun work we did but easily the most energy-consuming, with the sun beating down directly on us.

All in all, the work was very difficult and toiling, but it was much more rewarding and easier when you had everyone there helping out. I think the work itself is easily what brought everyone on the trip closer, making it that much more fun. Also, the coconut water breaks definitely helped out.

Aside from the work, we had wonderful accommodations. If there’s one thing that deserves a shout out, it would have to be to all the chefs and workers that were with us while at the village. Not only did they make absolutely fantastic food, but they had such great personalities and accommodated us better than I could ever have hoped for. Even when Mitchell and I were dying of dehydration, they were getting us water and assisting us with our food needs as well as the other messy details that still bring me great pain to think about.

The food cannot go unmentioned, either. These wonderful chefs were able to capture the flavors from the north and south of India in just four days. As a growing young man, I definitely approved of the portions at each meal, and it was all so tasty and enjoyable and really brought the whole experience together.

I think this trip really showed me a new side of India that I had yet to experience as well as made a lot of great friends. If there is one thing this trip really showed me, it is that Dinesh’s selfie game is unparalleled.