Tuesday, November 18, 2014

#ToiletForBabli: In search of hope, hygiene and health

Let me be honest about it. As a young girl who’s spent most of her summer vacations on the highway tagging along with her traveler parents, I understand what this means.

No Mummy. Let’s wait for some more time… we might just spot a petrol pump nearby.

Sometimes, we did. But not every time have we been lucky. Driving across long barren Indian national highways through small archaic villages, with vast jungle lands stretching into infinity and no life in sight, the basic action of answering nature’s call has not always been easy.

Occasions like these have been rare but not totally non existent. As much as these have been embarrassing, in a way I am also thankful for them. For someone who's lived in the suburbs of Mumbai all her life, enjoying the basic comforts in life (and more), instances like these have been nothing less than an eye opener. For they have inspired me in a certain way, and empathized me in a way I am not sure if anything otherwise would have.

Today, I am only glad because I understand and can completely relate to a campaign like #ToiletForBabli. Babli is a young village girl who is forced to walk out in the open everyday in the company of the night, not to gaze at the moon or the stars, but to perform a very basic activity, a necessity of life – of reliving oneself.

While the misery of travellers like me is still short lived, it is heart wrenching to think that of Babli's is permanent. What's even more shattering is the shocking reality that Babli is not alone.

According to a survey by the World Bank, over 600 million people, roughly 60% of Indian households, still have to head to the fields or other open spaces to use them as makeshift bathrooms. Clearly, lack of proper sanitation and shortage of basic bathroom facilities is a major crisis throbbing in India. Not surprisingly, it is girls and women, being the more vulnerable of the two sexes, who pay the heavier price. Venturing out in the dark for defecation exposes them to the risk of horrific, even deadly, attacks of sexual violence like molestation, rapes and verbal and physical abuse. That apart, not being able to access toilets raises threats on health and hygiene leading to a variety of serious infections and ailments impacting the overall health of not just the womenfolk but the entire family and nation dependent on them.

What’s saddening to assimilate is the fact that it’s not a one day ordeal but a trauma that they have to face each and every morning of their life. Just imagine. My heart shatters into pieces just by imagining the shame, indignity and embarrassment they have to bear. Simply put: it’s totally cruel, brutal even life threatening to not have the privacy to perform a necessary bodily function.

In a grim situation like this, what rings hope are awareness campaigns like the recent Domex intitated #ToiletForBabli.

Those days when issues like these were spoken in hushed tones and better preferred to be swept under the carpet are now passé. It’s inspiring and energizing to see such a sensitive issue of eradicating open defecation addressed in innovative ways that could not even be imagined a decade ago when the word 'toilet' was still a taboo, forget speaking about it.

The country’s Prime minister Narendra Modi addressed the cause of proper sanitation in an epoch Independence day speech where he resolved to put ‘toilets before temples’ and urged every citizen to get together for the cause.

Not to forget, real heroes like a 5th grade dropout Savita, who took the bold step of walking out of her 7 year old marriage as her husband was not ready to have a permanent toilet at their house in Mundlana village in Madhya Pradesh.

Savita was still a woman… think of all the Bablis out there. Simple young village girls filled with big dreams in their small round eyes. All they want for now is to lead a healthy, hygienic, dignified life. To accomplish this, they are here along with Domex seeking your help and mine.

Together, we can bring about a change in the lives of millions of kids, thereby showing our support for the Initiative "You Click, Domex Contributes" at www.domex.in. All we need to do is “click” on the “Contribute Tab” on www.domex.in and Domex will contribute Rs.5 on our behalf to eradicate open defecation, thereby helping kids like Babli live a dignified life.

I just clicked! Will you also join in and help Babli lead a dignified life?

Just a click. And, Babli's face beams up, instantly. I saw it. You can see it too. It’s a glow that shall light up your soul.

Monday, November 10, 2014

'My College Diary' Contest: Cash Prizes Worth RS. 10,000 to be Won!

Are you fond of your college memories and love rekindling them once in a while? Do you love speaking about the memorable times you spent there and wish you could go back and relive them again?

Well, then this giveaway cum contest is for no one else but YOU!

My Yatra Diary… along with collegedunia.com is very excited to host ‘My College Diary’ contest where we are giving away cash prizes worth 10,000 INR (~ 150 USD) for the all the stories that you have got to share.

All you have to do is take a dive back in your college memories and then let your pen do the talking. That’s it and who knows next thing, you could be walking away with your share of prizes!

What are the prizes?

  • The best entry wins INR 5000 Cash.
  • 2 runners-up win INR 2000 Cash.
  • 1 lucky winner for helping with 'Social Media Outreach' will win INR 1000.

What is the topic?

Got an interesting college story to tell in pictures or words? Excited to take us around and show us your college campus from your perspective? Discovered something new while bunking classes and going out for a stroll?

If you found yourself nodding like a little kid, now is the time to flip back all those pages from your #CollegeDiaries, put your writing hat on and blog about it!

A few ideas to help you get started:

  • College Backpack: Been a courageous traveler all along? Have memories of that short field trip you took with your classmates or the impromptu jungle expedition you embarked on with your friends or that first taste of freedom when you decided to venture out alone? Tell us your story. Write about your experience there – what you saw, what you ate, interesting people you met, and what you did. 
  • Around Campus: What was the most favorite spot to hang out while not spending your time in the classroom? The silence of the library? The nearby sea shore? Canteen? Food joints? Quaint little temple you always stopped to pray before going to give your exams? Walk us through around your campus by writing about it on your blog!
  • Festivals and Events: Attended the college festival? Have stories to share? A memorable incident perhaps? Share your experiences and get all nostalgic.
  • Not great with words? No problem, pictures speak volumes. Blog your college memories as a photo story and team it up with interesting captions.

Social Media Outreach Bonus:

Besides writing the blog post, you can always help me spread the word on social media by sharing this banner on your blog/personal FB pages along with a link to this post:

 Share this banner along with the link of this post on your FaceBook page;
one lucky winner wins Rs. 1000

Drop the link to your shared FB post status in the comment section below / on my Facebook page / on twitter. Alternatively, you can also email me the screenshot on 22arti@gmail.com. As a token of gratitude and appreciation, we will be giving out one Rs.1000 cash to one lucky winner!

Mandatory points to follow –

1. All entries should mention this line in the post --> 'This post is my entry for 'My College Diary' contest held by travel blog My Yatra Diary in collaboration with Collegedunia.com' 

2. At the end of your post, tag atleast 3 bloggers or more who you think would be interested to participate in the contest and let them know about it by commenting on their blogs or on social media.

3. Only fresh entries written for the contest are allowed. Submit your entry link through the linky tool embedded below so that we can evaluate all the entries once the contest is over. Multiple entries are not allowed.

4. The winner will be chosen by me and College Dunia. Judges decision is final.


Everyone who blogs and is a blogger, is eligible to participate in the contest. Nationality does not matter. If the winner is not from India, then the equivalent amount of prize money as USD to his/her Paypal account. This contest is open for all.

Contest Deadline:

Last date for the contest: 7th 11th December, 2014 (12.00 Midnight IST)*

*As I have received many entries on the 7th, I am extending the contest for 4 days so that those tagged at the last moment get a chance to participate too. Please submit your entries soon, there will be no further extension now.

This Contest is now CLOSED and the results will be declared shortly. Thanks everyone for participating, can't wait to read through your entries!

Declaration of Winners

Winners will be announced as soon as possible (tentatively before the beginning of the New Year so the winners have something extra to celebrate!) on my blog and my social media pages; so do keep an eye on them.

Happy Blogging and Good Luck! Eagerly looking forward to receiving your entries soon. :-)


A BIG thank you to everyone who took the time and participated in the ‘My College Diaries Contest’ and helped me spread the word on social media. We were thrilled with the number and quality of entries and choosing a winner was tough and so, after much deliberation, decided to go for a tie for the grand prize! Hold you breath, let us see who's winning what here!!

*Drum Roll Please*

2 Joint Grand Prize Winners:

- Rs. 2500 goes to Sushmita for her beautifully crafted "MBE | 2013 - 2015"

- Rs. 2500 goes to Divya Menon for her interesting "Our tryst with death" told in a fun and fresh perspective.

2 Runners-up Prize Winners:

- Rs. 2000 goes to Sagarika Naik for her direct dil-se wali post "In Memoriam"

- Rs. 2000 goes to Tennyson Thomas for his "College Days at UCC" expressing gratitude towards all those things that changed him for the better.

One random lucky winner for social media outreach: The Solitary Writer wins Rs. 1000 for spreading the word on his FB and twitter pages.

Congratulations to all the winners – I shall be contacting all of you via e-mail very soon.

Thanks again to all those who took the time to write for the theme. There were many amazing stories that seriously gave me a real hard time judging. Unfortunately though, there are just these many prizes we have. So, to all those who could not make it this time: Please don’t be disappointed, for all of you are awesome!

Do keep a track of similar contests in future by following me on FaceBook, Twitter (@artisdiary) and Google Plus for alerts. Till next time, Keep blogging!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Travelling Withlocals and Why I Think it's a Great Concept for India.

If I were to make a list and thank all the local people who’ve helped me truly arrive at a destination, a single lifetime would not be enough.

Yes, that’s what my yatras have done to me. They have helped me connect with people… people who are unknown, unfamiliar and nameless but people who know it all and are ever willing to share their knowledge - from the must-not-miss eatery hideouts you won’t find a mention in any of the guidebooks or the ‘best thing to do’ when you have got only a day to spend in their city.

I simply call them the friendly neighborhood Samaritans - the unassuming and shy village cowgirl or the gregarious rickshaw puller, the benign woman selling flowers and that scholarly pandit busy chanting mantras for one of his clients – just some of the many portraits whose names I have never really cared to ask. And yet they come to occupy a large chunk of my memories because somewhere they have helped me color my experiences making my travels memorable: one thing that breathes life in my yatra.

A local village girl makes chai in India
A local Rajasthani village girl making chai for me

These people or the Samaritans that I am talking about are none other but the friendly locals of my land, India. India, as a country, can come across as daunting not only to a foreign tourist but for a resident traveler as well for all the verdant diversity it offers. Just stepping in a different city can throw open a whole wide world at you. The healthy profusion of cultures, traditions, dialects, foods, the list of things to do and visit is incredibly impressive but at the same time also paints a picture of chaos and disarray leaving one jagged and confused.

That’s where locals can help out and help, in a big way. I know that can sound clichéd especially when talking about a country like India but it’s all about the choices you make. Strike the right connections with the right people; and the true mystical magical India reveals.

So, you can imagine how and why the concept of Withlocals.com and the news that it’s coming to India got me all rolled up to write a piece about it. A peer-to-peer marketplace where local people offer homely experiences and regional familiarity to travelers, Withlocals seems to have hit the bull’s eye by visualizing a space that erases cultural border gaps so that travel experiences can thrive in a friendly manner.

What does Withlocals offer?

Travel is so much about people and this is exactly what forms the core of the vision set up by the team of Withlocals. Travelers, for their part, seek experience and locals, for their part, are always happy to share: Withlocals is that bridge that aims at connecting these two aspects together thus creating authentic connections that thrive in a fun, friendly, unique and sustainable manner.

Keeping promise with this vision, Withlocals is themed around three ideas namely Eat, Tours, and Experience.

Eat Withlocals

Eat Withlocals offers a delicious dining experience immersed in the city you are in, in the comforting environment of a home.

There is really no substitute to a home cooked family meal. The personal touch of love, warmth and affection can never be replicated in five star restaurants or traded for any amount of money.

Eat Withlocals - Travel tip in India

I looked up reviews given for some of the listed hosts in this category and found most travelers reiterating these very notions. Like for example, this is what Florine K, a traveler has written about her Vietnamese eating experience with her local host Phi:

'Phi was very considerate about diet requests. She and her friend who joined for dinner were so much fun!'

Geared up with an objective to facilitate over 10,000 ‘home restaurants’ In Asia, the team at Withlocals seem dogged on intensifying the mere act of eating into evocative travel meals that  serve as a memory for a lifetime.

Tours Withlocals

In most circumstances, we rely on guidebooks or the internet when chalking out our exploration itinerary for ‘Things to do’ and ‘places to see’ in a new location. Though these options are pretty good but the thing is most often, they show us only the way to the trodden path missing out the local essence of the place. Withlocals solves this problem by taking the help of the local people who indubitably make the best tour guides for all the knowledge, love and passion they embrace of their homeland.

Tours Withlocals - Travel tip in India

By offering a marketplace where the travelers get to experience authentic expeditions led by really passionate individuals, it’s nice to see the team at Withlocals paving the way to sightseeing as a novel and a fun experience.

Experience Withlocals

This has to be my favorite of all the three activities – experience Withlocals gives you an opportunity to drive past all our inhibitions and actually do something the way the locals do. Yes, you heard that right – DO!

Activities Withlocals - Travel tip in India

The satisfaction and thrill derived from learning a new skill or getting involved in the local culture can form such a big aspect of our travels especially when travelling to foreign locales. For now, you can choose from a plethora of activities that range from driving a tuk-tuk to carving your own musical instrument and indulging in extreme sports. 

With it’s launch in India soon, I can’t wait to see this marketplace as a big cultural fest booming with an abundance of interesting skills and extraordinary experiences since India boasts of such a rich cultural heritage and individuality.

Highlight of the Withlocals concept and what it means for a country like India?

India, as we all know, can be a land of myriad ironies where one moment hearts swell in pride to know how talented and competent so many people of this country are and the very next moment, hearts break in disbelief to see so many of them going unnoticed and unappreciated in the due course of time resulting in their poor economic state and substandard conditions of their living.

That's precisely where I am pretty excited to hear that Withlocals will soon be expanding their concept in southern India.
We want to enable people to earn a sustainable income by doing something they’re passionate about. ~ Withlocals Team

By far, Withlocals strongest suit is that of empowerment by giving each host a separate space requiring them to directly represent themselves and their hometown.

The idea is to seed travelers in the concept of genuine local-ised traveling in India by creating a economically sustainable conduit between the two. To me, this strategy seems to be checking boxes at many levels so that they fit in seamlessly: a country, India, rich in cultural arts; the grinding poverty of the smaller towns, the getting together of the community, the economic push derived by the people - see a pattern? There we go. An emerging generation of conceptual hosts now having a market place of their own, where they connect such that it makes a social and economic difference not only to their own living but to the lives of others as well. Bring it on, I say.

Interested in exploring more for yourself?

For now, you can do that by expressing your interest to become a 'Host' or a 'Brand Ambassador' for your region. Withlocals team is looking for hosts and brand ambassadors prior to its launch in southern part of India and is calling out to anyone who's passionate to make new friends, earn money and offer local experiences! Unfortunately, as of now, I don’t fit the bill as I reside in the western region of Mumbai but if you think you have it in you, all you need to do is sign up here: https://www.withlocals.com/locations/india/ Not only will you gain a big packet of happiness by making someone’s travels memorable but also make some income by following your passion.

Disclosure: This article is written in collaboration with 'Withlocals'. I endorse only those services that I believe in. All opinions expressed here are purely my own.