Monday, December 10, 2007

Love India, Hate India

Everyone I’ve ever known who has traveled to India has recalled both loving the experience and hating it at the same time. They weren’t kidding!

Brian and I recently returned from a week and a half long trip to India so that I could attend the 4th UN International Conference on Environmental Education towards a Sustainable Future from 24-28 November in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. The plan was to have a day before the conference to settle in, five days at the conference and then three days to explore the local area before heading home with a day’s stopover in Singapore to visit friends (whew).

The conference itself was quite enjoyable with 1200 delegates from 80 countries. The conference was organized around a variety of environmental education themes such as pedagogy, monitoring and evaluation, the role of environmental education in primary and secondary schools, in nature parks and in higher education, the role of technology, etc. I was part of the higher education stream and presented a paper entitled “Developing a Whole-of-University Approach to Educating for Sustainability: Linking Curriculum, Research and Sustainable Campus Operations.”

Now Ahmedabad is your typically chaotic Indian city of 5 million residents (picture people everywhere, begging children, cows wandering around, pollution like you’ve never seen, and people sleeping in the streets). The venue for the conference was the Centre for Environmental Education, a fifteen acre centre where the buildings and trails are woven throughout the trees – you can imagine that this place was like a sanctuary from the craziness of the city – I loved it and it was obviously and excellent venue for the topic.

Morning tea amongst the trees

A langoor – a highlight of the outdoor plenary sessions were the monkeys and peacocks leaping and flittering through the treetops during the panel discussions!

The conference was really enjoyable and inspiring as I met people from around the world doing really great work - and I even managed to make some new friends along the way.

Day five of the conference just happened to be my birthday and while I thought turning thirty(!) in India would be memorable, I didn't know what I was in for. I awoke on the last day of the conference and congratulated myself and my stomach for holding up so well to foreign food, water and germs. Jumped the gun a bit there because by 3pm I was getting pretty queasy. I managed to make it through the rest of the sessions, catch a bit of the music and dancing and say goodbye to new friends Neha and Vinod from India and Maya from Israel (hi guys!). Made it back to my hotel room before it all went downhill. The next 24 hours were less than pleasant as I battled what I can only assume to be food poisoning or assorted intestinal bugs.

So, the cursed Delhi Belly cut into my post conference travel time and the only interesting tourist-like thing we were able to do, aside from a bit of shopping at the local markets, was visit Gandhi's Ashram, from where he began the famous Salt March in 1930. Here I am with the Father of the Nation...

By the time our departure date arrived, we were ready to leave India. While Brian likes to say that I got the full "India experience" I feel that I missed out on seeing the countryside and much of the rich cultural and spiritual traditions that bring tourists to India. I went for work and then I got sick and then the chaos and pollution just got to be too much.

We had planned a stopover in Singapore to see our friends and neighbours from last year, Karl and Sheryl, and we were overwhelmed at how much different one Asian nation could be from the next. Singapore is neat and tidy and green and lush - a welcome change from urban India. We spent a delightful day with them seeing the sights. Here we are at the Botanic Gardens...

One variety amongst a gazillion orchids

I don't know what kind of insect this is but I'm including it because it has to be one of the best photos we've taken on our camera (kudos to Brian)

The good looking man himself

Cool bromeliads

Me in the orchid garden

And the day ended with a visit to a tea shop where we had a lovely tea ceremony and learned about varieties of teapots. Here I am with the biggest teapot I've ever seen (some photos you just know will have to go on the blog). Sheryl then brought us to get the yummiest laksa (coconut curry seafood soup) I've ever had! She'd been telling me about it for a year and I wasn't disappointed!

Our day in Singapore was seemingly over before it began and we were soon saying goodbye to our friends and getting back on a plane. Not just any plane by the way - the giant two storey A380 Airbus. Honestly, we were too exhausted to notice whether it was cool or not; economy didn't have any more leg room and that was all I cared about. Back in Canberra we had a new appreciation for clean air and a good sixteen hour sleep before Brian started a new job and we got back into the routine.

The end. Thanks for reading.


  1. Quite a party teapot.

  2. Yea. Thanks. Glad you are feeling better now. :)