Our Days For Girls Trip in Rishikesh was something we had prepared for, for over three years! Our women’s organization devoted their time and efforts into making these kits so we were passionate about delivering them. We found 3 locations in Rishikesh, India where we could deliver the kits and teach classes, and we then designed our sightseeing trip around the deliveries. Three of us traveled to visit our friend in Delhi who helped arrange the Days For Girls deliveries in Rishikesh.
We visited a friend who had a personal driver which made the travel and accommodations simple, but it did involve road trips so we could fit in all we wanted to do. The entire itinerary may not suit everyone’s preferences, but it is possible to just use the specific location itineraries to suit your needs.
We had a 9:30 pm arrival into Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. We purchased SIM cards upon arrival at the airport and recommend it. You will need Wifi to activate them and it takes 30 minutes after purchase for it to activate. Our friend picked us up at the airport and we traveled to Gurgaon to stay for the night.
We left very early (5:30 am) for Agra with a personal driver to the Taj Mahal. It is a 3 hour drive from Gurgaon. We met our amazing guide Rameesh, for a private tour of Taj Mahal and Agra Fort.
The Taj Mahal was built for Shah Jahan’s most beloved wife who died while delivering their 14th child. The building is made of top quality marble that is durable, clean and glistens in the sun. The flower designs are created in mosaic form using precious and semi-precious stones. It took 22 years to complete with 20,000 workers. The walking tour with photos took about 2-3 hours and was absolutely delightful in all ways.
The Taj Mahal is serene, peaceful and amazing!
Private Driver Details:
I would 100% recommend doing this with a private driver and guide. To beat the heat and the crowds we recommend going first thing in the morning. This is easiest with a private driver. I highly recommend Hari Om who drove us the whole trip. He is a safe driver and very polite. You can contact him on WhatsApp at +91 99584 60684.
Private Guide Details:
Our guide for the day was Rameesh and we LOVED HIM. He was kind, educated, considerate, funny, and passionate. He held a great pace and gave great photography recommendations. Rameesh took us to a the Taj Mahal Marble Shop where we got to see how the materials in the Taj Mahal were put together. Many of the locals are 14th generation descendants of the original craftsmen. They sold tables, plates, and all kinds of souvenirs, all with the same design techniques used to build the Taj. I bought a gorgeous, intricate dinner size plate for just under USD$200. They determine their prices based on how many different gems are inlaid in the design. If you are in need of Rameesh’s services you can contact him on WhatsApp at +91 98372 42198.
This site was where Shah Jahan (Emperor who built the Taj) and his family actually lived as the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum, not a palace. Shah Jahan’s son overtook him in a coup and imprisoned him here for the last 8 years of his life. The jail quarters had a view to the Taj Mahal.
We had lunch at Taj Mahal Family Restaurant, which was a recommendation from Rameesh. It was delicious and had air-conditioning (AC). We definitely recommend any restaurants with AC!
Chand Baori Stepwell
After a drive back to Gurgaon we quickly packed and started our drive to Jaipur. Along the way we stopped at Chand Baori for about an hour (without a guide). It is one of the largest and deepest stepwells in India. 3500 steps amongst the 13 stories. Magnificently designed to conserve as much water as possible it was also used as a community gathering for locals in the intense heat.
Harshat Mata Temple
Right next to the Chand Baori is the Harshat Mata Temple. It is an interesting blend of Hindu and Muslim architecture. We stopped here briefly and explored the grounds without a guide. It is a 4 hour drive to Jaipur and a great way to see life in India.
We arrived in Jaipur by the end of day and checked into our accommodations at Hotel ITC Rajputana which we highly recommend! After a long day we chose room service for dinner and went to bed.
This day happened to be Election Day, so many places were closed to the public which changed our plans a bit. Even still, we enjoyed a lovely breakfast at the hotel before doing some limited sightseeing.
One of the few places open that day was the City Palace. We opted for the audio tour with headphones and it was sufficient for what we wanted. Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II moved his court to Jaipur from Amber, in 1727. Jaipur is the present-day capital of the state of Rajasthan, and until 1949 the City Palace was the ceremonial and administrative seat of the Maharaja of Jaipur. It now houses the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum, and continues to be the home of the Jaipur royal family.
I sat next to a woman on the plane that highly recommended visiting Rambagh Palace, so before heading back to the hotel, we paid a visit. Upon arrival, the lobby smelled heavenly of plumeria and jasmine.
Because we were planning on dinner out that night, we opted not to stay for High Tea here, but it looked divine and might be a great thing for you to try if you have the time. Due to the Election Day closures, we opted to spend the afternoon poolside after having lunch at our hotel at the restaurant, Peshawri. This was my all time favorite restaurant of the trip.
The flavors and quality of the food was PHENOMENAL. Best lamb I’ve ever had.
For dinner we went to Choki Dhani; a cultural theme park. The meal was fun and we got to try a myriad of delicious options! We paid for the more expensive option (which was still cheap) and it was worth it. The food experience was great even though the theme park was cheesy. Discount tickets can be purchased here.
We originally didn’t feel the need to have a guide for Amber Fort, but changed our mind once we arrived, and were glad we did. It made such a difference to have all of the history and context as we were perusing this beautiful place. Conveniently you can hire a good guide right at the gate.
Amber was once the capital of Jaipur state, and the fort was the residence of its Rajput rulers. Maharaja Man Singh I, who led Mughal Emperor Akbar’s army, began construction in 1592 on the remains of an 11th-century fort. Learning about how they lived in their “summer quarters” and “winter quarters” without the technology of today (among other interesting facts) was fascinating.
The Jantar Mantar monument is a collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments built by the Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh II, and completed in 1734. It features the world’s largest stone sundial, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The instruments allow the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye.
We didn’t book a guide for this, but I sort of wish we did, just to give us a more complete understanding of it. However there are signs with information explaining each design, so if you don’t love having a guide you can still get around just fine.
This palace was built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh with its original intent being to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life and festivals celebrated in the street below without being seen. They had to obey the strict rules of “purdah”, which forbade them from appearing in public without face coverings. We stopped long enough to take a picture, but didn’t enter.
We chose an inexpensive lunch at Burger King this day just out of curiosity. Many Indians are vegetarian, as cows are sacred animals so we were anxious to see what the American chain fast food offerings would be! Things like the Maharaja Mac and Paneer King were on the menu.
Back to Gurgaon
After a day full of intriguing history and sightseeing we drove the 4 hours back to Gurgaon and ended the day with some shopping at Mega Mall. It was a fun place to buy some classy Indian dresses. Dinner was at Sodabottleopenerwala in CyberHub (next to Mega Mall). It is a great restaurant with a wonderful staff who are all deaf. They have a menu with some helper pages to communicate. Food was good and the service was great!
To get to Rishikesh from Delhi takes over 5 hours of driving time. We left at 5:30 am. We arrived at noon and went directly to a Days for Girls delivery in Rishikesh.
Days For Girls Delivery #1:
Of all that we saw and did, the most meaningful part of the trip was delivering 140 Days For Girls kits to three rural schools in Rishikesh. These kits were made in Hong Kong at our A.S.I.A Women’s Conference. We taught these beautiful girls how important, smart, good, powerful and loved they are while educating them about the GOODNESS of puberty, menstruation, how babies are made, hygiene and how to stand up for themselves with basic self defense.
Our first Days For Girls delivery was to a small village with about 50 girls and women present. When we arrived, we met with the appropriate people and some affiliated NGOs. It was very much a cultural lesson for me. Because we were a group of 4 women, meeting with a group of men, the cultural differences were evident.
I witnessed first hand, one of our friends being cut off multiple times in mid-explanation or while answering a question by others in the room. She was repeatedly interrupted and I felt a sense of rage building up inside of me in her defense. But as this was not her first experience, with graceful discernment, she knew when to assert herself where necessary and was very respectful.
It took some convincing, but we were able to help the leaders of the village understand why it was important for us to NOT include men in our presentation. We wanted to offer a safe and comprehensive experience that can often be hindered by the presence of a man because of the taboo nature of the subject matter.
Delivering Menstrual Education
Days For Girls does an amazing job with preparing you with what you need to know to be successful. We had all of the supplies necessary; menstrual kits, flip charts in English and Hindi and we all felt empowered because we were passionate about the cause.
After the lesson, it was evident that much of the information discussed was new to the audience. There were medical technician students present for the presentation who said that they learned things they’d not known before. They invited us to lunch at their nearby school and we happened to run into a group of nursing students from Brigham Young University (BYU), a school we know well. We invited the nursing students to join us on our next delivery so they could experience one before they conducted their own.
Sewing Factory Tour
Next we were invited to tour a “factory” (a villa with about 8 sewing machines providing work for 15 live in employees) of another NGO. They repurpose clothing scraps into book bags, reusable grocery bags and washable sanitary napkins. They are working to become a Days For Girls enterprise, which is very exciting!
After a fantastic day we checked into the Yog Niketan hotel for the evening. It was quaint and right on the river. They have a helpful and flexible staff. We definitely recommend it!
We enjoyed a bit of downtime and laughter before we set off to attend the Parmarth Niketan Aarti on the bank of the Ganges River. “Aarti” is derived from a Sanskrit word that means to remove darkness. It’s a ritual that involves circulating an Aarti plate, lamp, or flame accompanied with songs sung by the congregation. Listening to everyone sing praises to their gods and perform their worship and rituals with such devotion, respect and faith was such a treasure. At the end of the Aarti Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati said,
“May we be open, touched and transformed and bring that touch all over the world, carrying this grace with us wherever we go.”
At the end of the day we enjoyed a delicious late dinner at Chotiwala.
Rafting on the Ganges
As a fun break in our amazing trip we rafted the Class 4 rapids on the Ganges River! The water was glacial flow so it was very cold. Some of us were fine because it was SO hot, and others shivered most of the way home. We women were strong and went through parts of the river that boats full of 12 men bailed out of to get rides instead of navigating on the raft. We stopped to do some cliff jumping and got out to swim with our guides. It was such a great experience! Please raft with Snow Leopard Adventures. They were very professional and prioritized safety above all else.
We had lunch at the Beatles Café. It had great options and the relaxed open air environment had a wonderful view.
Rishikesh is a city in India’s northern state of Uttarakhand, in the Himalayan foothills beside the Ganges River. The river is considered holy, and the city is renowned as a center for studying yoga and meditation. A plethora of temples and ashrams (centers for spiritual studies) line the eastern bank around Swarg Ashram.
The ashram gained international attention in 1968 when the Beatles studied meditation there. It was the setting for their most productive period as songwriters. The site is derelict and overrun by jungle now – it’s like a lost city with a cool hippie vibe deep in the middle of nowhere. We showed up right before it closed and explored for a few hours. If you want to go, bring good walking shoes, water, and a camera! It was pretty spectacular and we liked to imagine what this was like back in the day!
Shopping in Rishikesh
After returning from the Beatles Ashram, we shopped the streets in Rishikesh for souvenirs. There are great souvenirs on both sides of the river but be sure to negotiate the price!
When you are in the yoga capital of the world, one must do yoga! The Yog Niketan Hotel offered one yoga session for free. We started out our day with a 7:00am session. It was pretty cool doing yoga on the Ganges River. I only wish we had time to do more!
Days for Girls Delivery #2
When we arrived at the first small village we discovered there was no one there to translate for us. The BYU Nurses there to observe had been raving about their driver and how kind, gentle, respectful and helpful he was.
He was a father as well and he agreed to be our translator. Normally we specifically ask that men not be present while we teach this course as it can completely change the dynamics for those present, but this man was incredible and helped facilitate a meaningful lesson and delivery. Sometimes you improvise and things work out better than planned! The Rishikesh driver and guide is Raju Massey and can be reached by WhatsApp at +91 86300 43837. He was outstanding!
Days for Girls Delivery #3
While at the second village, we became aware of another school that really needed reusable hygiene kits and we rushed over to do it. It was the perfect way to end the trip. We didn’t have a translator here either, but because Days For Girls supplied all of the training materials, we had a flip chart in Hindi that we gave to some of the older girls at the school. We spoke and taught in English, and paused, while these smart and beautiful girls translated and read the information to their female classmates. It was a wonderful experience to see these girls rise to the occasion; for us to let go and be flexible with our plans so that the real learning and teaching could take place. Such a wonderful and heart warming experience.
We had a wonderfully full day of teaching, learning and being together. We stopped for a quick lunch on our drive back to Delhi. I don’t recall the place, but it was a sort of grab and go buffet style. The drive back was 6 hours.
As a final goodbye to India we did some exploring in Delhi. We had a 7:00 am food tour with Delhi Food Walk in Old Delhi. We LOVED this food tour. So many different delicious tastes of things we wouldn’t have otherwise tried. Our experienced guide took us to reliable places and explained the significance of certain foods.
Afterwards we visited a spice market and ended the tour at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib Sikh Temple where they feed about 20,000 people a day free of charge through volunteers. It was amazing.
Baha’i Lotus Temple
After the food tour we stopped at the Baha’i Lotus Temple. Anyone of any religion is welcome to enter and worship. Non-scriptural texts and instruments are not allowed, but worshiping, singing, and reading of any religion or belief is accepted here. It is such a gift to see people devoted to living their truth.
We stopped at Dilli Haat for one last shopping trip to see what kinds of treasures we could find that would, of course, fail to capture the essence of this amazing trip, but would surely remind us of how we felt when we were there. We stopped for a delicious and refreshing meal at FabIndia. It had a variety of options. I felt healthier just looking at the menu! Afterwards we headed out to the airport for a 10pm flight, ready to sleep our way back to Hong Kong!
Days For Girls Deliveries Make The Trip Meaningful
Building this trip to India around the Days For Girls delivery gave such depth and meaning to our experience. We had an opportunity to really help girls in a sustainable way. It was such an honor to be a part of it. If you have a chance to participate in making kits, and/or delivering them anywhere in the world, we highly recommend you take advantage of the opportunity. Building service into your travel expands your horizons and makes the world a better place. Find out about these travel opportunities by visiting Days For Girls International.
Know Before You Go:
Before heading to India take note of these things
- Take wipes, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, sunscreen, mosquito spray.
- Dress light, it’s Hot.
- Use Imodium for unexpected stomach issues. Pepto Bismol works well as an everyday maintenance or start a probiotic a week before you travel.
- Get your visas in advance. It takes 72 hours for Americans.
- Tipping: We tipped between 200-500 rupees for our tour guides.
- Money exchange: We made sure to have some cash on hand upon arrival, but ATMs were common and we had no issues withdrawing cash when needed.
- When eating at local stalls steer clear of meat and fresh veggies.
- Buy SIM card at airport.
- Use WhatsApp to communicate with drivers and guides.