Seven Weeks in India: On Making Connections and Facilitating Openness

One of my most humbling life experiences, meeting elephants in Jaipur

One of my most humbling life experiences, meeting elephants in Jaipur

Written by Ashley Charach

Having travelled to a current running count of twenty-eight countries, I’ve had my share of interactions and conversations with both locals and fellow travellers in various locales all over the world. Travelling, especially alone, inherently makes you more open. When out of your comfort zone, you’re forced to start a conversation with a stranger; to ask for directions when lost; or to put yourself in a situation where you might otherwise have felt uncomfortable.

There’s something really special about the connections you make while travelling. Sometimes, you may share a great night out with fun, like-minded individuals, only to not exchange contact information and to never see those people again. In the moment, it feels like you could have been friends with them forever. Often, those moments don’t last, but there’s nothing wrong with them being fleeting. They offer an opportunity to be open and to engage in new experiences, without any lasting commitment. Sometimes, you may indeed exchange contact information with the individuals you meet while travelling, forming a long distance friendship and savouring the bonds only those kinds of friendships can make. Even if those bonds do eventually fade, the moments you did share will always be savoured in your memories.

Conversations in a new country

The finished product of the visual tool our group made.

The finished product of the visual tool our group made.

his past summer I travelled to India, not solo like I usually favour, but with a group of insightful, like-minded individuals with whom I formed bonds that I am certain will last a lifetime. While travelling throughout India, I was open to all new experiences and interactions. This mentality lent itself well to engaging in meaningful conversations and forming connections throughout this incredible country.

In Dehradun, an industrial city in the north, we worked with an organization called Pragati, under the umbrella of larger organization RLEK (Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra), both of which work to combat illiteracy (primarily in women) in rural villages in India. Each year, RLEK takes a group of law students as interns. One day during our stay there, we worked with the law students to make visual tools helping to show illiterate women in rural villages the value of their roles in the homes and in the villages, among other things. While making these tools, it was great to interact with young people native to the country we were visiting.

I got to chatting with Amisha, one of the law students. Amisha, as a young person, has a refreshingly open attitude. India is 80% Hindu, although officially it is a secular country. Amisha celebrates such Hindu festivals as Holi and Diwali, but also Eid with her Muslim friends, Christmas with her Christian friends, and so on. Amisha and I exchanged contact information, and a few days later while we were instant messaging, Amisha commented on how close she felt with us foreign visitors, how she viewed us as family, and how much she valued the time we spent together. It’s amazing the connections you can make with people despite coming from different backgrounds.

Amritsar, a place of peace and holiness

The Golden Temple at night.

The Golden Temple at night.

A few weeks later we were visiting Amritsar, home of The Golden Temple, a holy place for Sikhs. Learning about Sikhism I was blown away by this beautiful, peaceful religion, and it felt so special to be spending a few days in such a holy place. One evening, several members of our group sat by The Golden Temple at nighttime, enjoying the peace of the beautiful gold building and the shining reflection in the water of its surrounding pool. I found myself sitting next to a young man called Anketh, who had just completed his pharmacy degree and was contemplating going travelling. Anketh lives nearby, and visits the Golden Temple every night with his mother. He is Hindu, but has many Sikh friends, and finds meaning and beauty in The Golden Temple despite belonging to a different religion. It was lovely to have a laid back conversation with yet another young person who comes from a culture so different from mine, but to find common interests in things such as travel and entertainment.

Rishikesh, the birthplace of yoga

Ganges View

Ganges View

In Rishikesh, my partner in crime for much of the trip, Danielle, and I were walking around one day trying to beat the heat, when we encountered an Argentinean woman whose name I’ve forgotten. She began recommending places in Rishikesh for us to visit, and eventually we started walking alongside her. She took us to her special “shanti, shanti” place (“shanti” is Sanskrit for “peace”), a swinging bench in the shade overlooking the Ganges. The three of us sat and talked about travel, religion, and life. Our Argentinean friend was presently spending six months in India, a place where she finds so much meaning. A fifty-three year-old yoga teacher, she has a lifestyle that allows her the opportunity to travel for extended periods of time. It was not her first time to India; she visits often, spending time in both new and in her favourite places.

Our friend had a very peaceful worldview and perspective on religion. She was raised Jewish and attended Jewish school in Argentina. In her teenage years, she developed an interest in Christianity, and began learning about Jesus Christ. As she grew older, she became interested in the Sikh religion, later converting to Sikhism and giving herself a Sikh name. It was interesting to encounter a woman who had such an interesting view on religion, and who was so open to learning about the various religions of the world. Danielle and I had a lovely afternoon with our new friend, who encouraged us to think openly and peacefully.

How can we bear to leave this place?

Campsite on night 1 of our 3-day trek in the Himalayas - snow-capped mountains in the background.

Campsite on night 1 of our 3-day trek in the Himalayas - snow-capped mountains in the background.

In Pushkar, another friend, Art, and I were sipping chai with the proprietors of our new favourite falafel stand. We began conversing with the Israeli woman sitting next to us, who was in the midst of her third trip to India, this time with her thirteen year-old daughter; her twenty-three year old daughter would be joining them later in their trip along with her boyfriend. Art and I began explaining to Sigal how deeply we had fallen in love with India. She stopped us, looked into our eyes, and said, “I know how you feel.” That was all that needed to be said. Sigal was inspiring. At forty-seven years old, she found opportunities to travel all over the world, with her daughters, with her husband, or on her own.

See you again next year, India?

Falafel and chai, bridging cultures together with food.

Falafel and chai, bridging cultures together with food.

Art and I spent our last day in Delhi at Hotel Namaskar, where we had stayed twice previously throughout our seven-week trip. When staying at Namaskar, I would often sit in the lobby with Dilip, who worked there, as I found his presence calming. I spent much of our last day sitting with Dilip, sipping chai and watching Bollywood, not needing to say much. Prior to going home for the evening, Dilip knocked on our hotel room door to say goodbye. After we embraced, he took our hands in his, and with tears in his eyes said, “Namaskar will always be your home.” Art and I truly felt that this sentiment rang true.

These stories represent only snippets of the many interactions I had throughout my journey in India. I will never forget any of these encounters, and I look forward to the many more that I will undoubtedly have as I continue to incorporate travel into my life.


Ashley Charach describes herself as “your quintessential Vancouverite.” An avid runner who feels at home in nature, you can often find her on the beach, in the mountains hiking, or seeking peace in her daily yoga practice. A firm believer in life being about opportunity and experiences, Ashley seeks to incorporate travel into her life as much as possible.

Ashley has been with YWiB since March 2017, as a Logistics Coordinator for our flagship Beyond conference. She is currently pursuing a diploma in Human Resource Management at BCIT.

Ashley Charach

Ashley describes herself as “your quintessential Vancouverite.” An avid runner who feels at home in nature, you can often find her on the beach, in the mountains hiking, or seeking peace in her daily yoga practice. A firm believer in life being about opportunity and experiences, Ashley seeks to incorporate travel into her life as much as possible.

Ashley has been with YWiB since March 2017, as a Logistics Coordinator for our flagship Beyond conference. She is currently pursuing a diploma in Human Resource Management at BCIT.