Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Land of contrasts

As I believe I have mentioned, I have just spent 10 days in India, my first visit to that most dazzling and description-defying land of contrasts in 12 years. I was lucky enough to have been invited on an exchange visit courtesy of the African Safari Lodge Foundation, a South African organisation working to secure benefits for local communities from tourism. Our hosts were Equations, an Indian research and advocacy group with much the same aims. An interesting two-day workshop in hot and hectic Delhi was followed by a trip up into the high and chilly Himalayas, around Leh town, where the highlight for all of us was a night in a local home, participating in a homestay project facilitated by the Snow Leopard Conservancy Trust. (I'm giving you all these names because I really feel they deserve a plug!)

The SLC have been doing great work to protect the endangered snow leopard - and other rare wildlife - through working with local communities to develop alternative livelihood options like the homestays and ways of protecting their livestock from predator attacks. They have been so successful that livestock losses have been reduced to near zero, and retaliatory attacks on snow leopards have ceased completely. Once-resented predators are now described as the "ornaments of our mountains". And their homestays, with an amazing cultural richness and true warmth and hospitality, put mine to shame!

Rather than waffle on any longer, I'll let the pictures do the talking.

First it was all a bit:

But then off we flew and it was all...

Once we arrived it started looking like this:

We visited some beautiful and spiritual places...

...and met some interesting people.

But there was still time for some sight-seeing at the end.

And last but not least, if you are ever in Delhi, I highly recommend the absolutely awesome Cocoberry frozen yoghurt place in Defence Colony market. Without a doubt the best way to beat the heat! (Headline during our stay: "Summer Cool: storm drops Delhi temperatures to 39C".)

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