Our last day in Surat, we went to the area where the diamond brokers do the world’s largest diamond business in the open-air. Only men are brokers, and as we were the only women out of thousands, all eyes were on us (Marta is so glad she left her credit cards at home). Here we saw diamond cutters, diamond polishers, and the brokers selling diamonds from their laps, sitting in the streets. There was no such things as being worried about thievery–amazing.
After spending ten days in Gujarat, a northwest State in India where Gandhi spent most of his life, we took the India Express back to Mumbai. Surprisingly, it was a pleasant trip in an air-conditioned train car with dinner.
On Sunday, as we waited for a tour guide, we sat in the Leopold Cafe–very famous in India for tourists–and watched two guys drink a tall spigot of beer with their breakfast. The spigot is likened to a pitcher, although it shocked us how much beer could be drunk at breakfast. Yuck!
We enjoyed a very educational tour to the Dhavari Slum, where we had planned to visit a school and deposit our school supplies from Colorado. However, because it was Sunday, the school was closed, so we gave the supplies to our tour company (from whom 80% of their proceeds and all donations go to their school in Dhavari) to deliver to the students the next day. In Dhavari, we learned there is a one billion US$ industry in plastic recycling, leather, clay pottery, aluminum and other metal recycling, soap making, and butter making. These people, many of whom are from outside of Mumbai, live here in a 10×10 room with their families as well as work in these tiny workshops to prepare materials wholesale for shipping to other parts of the world. It was astounding to see such handmade production that totals over 1B dollars in profit for the owners of the businesses. Obviously, over one million people live in incredible filth with open human waste pits, exposed electrical wires with water dripping down the concrete walls. We went into a shop and climbed three levels of ladders to the rooftops where we had a birds-eye view of the rooftops of the slums. There, we saw satellite dishes and cell towers and could not believe the majority of people have televisions in their 10×10 homes. Every family we saw greeted us with a smile and welcomed expression. We even took tea with a family who invited us into their home/business. And, we felt incredibly guilty about our American wealth.
The next day–our last day–we toured an animal reserve, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park bordered by city limits; the reserve is in the middle of the city and to the north. It is 250 square kilometers and is home to lions and tigers and a 2100 year old Buddhist monastery carved out of a monolithic mountain. As it was our only bad luck, the lion and tiger reserves were closed on Monday, but we walked 7 kilometers to the Buddhist caves that were carved out of the mountain in 100 B.C.E. There, we were astounded by Mesa Verde-like cliff dwellings that we could actually walk into and touch the cool sculptures within the caves. That would never happen in the United States. In one cave, there were two 7 meter tall sculptures of Buddha; in another cave, there were 1,000 sculptures of Buddha and in yet another cave, there was a cathedral-like acoustics where our duty guard chanted Hindi hymns that echoed in the most spiritual resonance you can imagine.
We flew home without a hitch and actually met up with our bags in Denver. Nice surprise! We drove home and got into Gunnison about 3 a.m. This has been a life-changing experience for both of us, and we are grateful to the Rural Education Trust for this opportunity.
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