Sikkim is one of the most inspiring places I have ever stumbled upon. This former Tibetan kingdom turned Indian state is nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, between Chinese Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Bengal. Known for its snow covered mountains, sweeping valleys, and perilous cliff side drives, Sikkim is a stark departure from the rest of India. Unlike the rest of India, the state is marked by progressive gender relations, high sanitation standards and extensive land preservation efforts.
The westernmost state of Xinjiang is in many ways China’s forgotten Tibet. I visited Xinjiang in the summer of 2011 while studying abroad in Beijing. I was moved by the kindness and generosity of the Uighurs who are desperately trying to maintain their communities and culture in the face of oppression and discrimination.
I traveled to Mizoram by chance with my German/Brazilian roommate, a French guy and the best gang of Mizo's I have ever met. I have heard very little about this part of India prior to my trip. Like most states in India, Mizoram has an almost entirely separate identity with its own distinct language, traditions and history. I found Mizoram remarkably progressive (it boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the country), naturally spectacular (a land of rolling hills, valleys and rivers), and the people to be some of the kindest I have encountered in India. Mizos abide by a code of ethics focused on "Tlawmngaihna," an obligation of all members of society to be kind, hospitable, selfless. There is a prevailing sense of community there, bolstered by generations of families living in homes perched above one another.
Skyscrapers surged from the ground to litter the skyline of a metropolis once considered the "Garden City of India." Bengaluru, now deemed the tech capital of India is the home-base I chose for my time spent in India. Expats flock to this city to enjoy the amenities of the West while acclimating to the chaos that is India.
In between arguing with autodrivers and dealing with stray monkeys in my flat, I volunteered for Dream a Dream, a local non-profit making waves in the lives of youth. The work of Dream a Dream cannot be easily quantified but its mission is an important one: to empower kids by developing cognitive, personal and interpersonal skills that can't be learned in the classroom.
Once, we held a camp for a group of forty kids teetering on adolescence. We spent four days sharing stories, holding workshops, singing songs in kanada, and learning from each other. We all left the camp in tears from how remarkable the experience was. I also left with the firm belief that deep human connections can be forged despite differences in age, culture and language.