We are often asked by our guests whether they should bring small (or sometimes larger) presents with them on their journeys, and if so what would be the best kind of gift. This isn’t a question with a simple answer, so we have written this post to look at the most important aspects.

 

Should you give presents to people in the host country?

We don’t think that arbitrarily giving stuff away is such a good idea. Of course, the intention is good, but receiving a present from an unknown, non-related person, almost as if it were a blessing from heaven, can seem and feel more than a bit strange. It is a loaded gesture that reminds of the patriarchal “rich white”, who acts as a savior and helps the “poor” while at the same time denies them the chance to help themselves.

Carelessly giving things to children has a negative effect!

No matter how good the intentions, random gifts – especially among children – often have the effect of inducing them to beg. Too frequently, even in remote mountain villages, one can hear little kids of preschool age asking for “one pen”, “one chocolate”, “one rupee” or “one bonbon”. Obviously someone in the past (maybe even the very recent past), passed through the region giving away pens, chocolate and other sweets (or simply money) to the children along the way, inadvertently sending the wrong message. In the short term sure, the children are happy, but in the long term this may not have a positive learning effect on the youngsters. On the contrary, their motto becomes a sad one: “I just have to look cute and beg a bit, then I will get presents.” (Not to mention the fact that many children barely brush their teeth, and too many sweets are not exactly beneficial for their dental health… but this is another issue.)

So… no presents?

Well, not necessarily. Gifts are ok, and a very nice gesture to show gratitude. So why not? When we are invited to someone’s house back in our home country, we usually also bring something for the host, or at least something to share with them. You can also do this abroad. Traveling in India often results in spontaneous invitations to tea, dinner or even a big feast. When this happens, one usually has already established some kind of relationship with the host, and so a small gift feels natural. A visit to a school is another appropriate ocassion for this: you can give for example crayons or football balls as a thank you.

Spontaneous invitations while traveling are memorable experiences. A small gift for the host is a nice gesture, but there are no expectations.

In the course of a trip, our guests often develop feelings of camaraderie and gratitude for the team members who support them, and many want to thank them in the end with something more than the customary tip. This is all totally ok, and will certainly bring joy to all parties involved. No need to worry about making a faux pas!

 

But what present to give?

This is a difficult question, because the answer always depends a lot on who you want to give the present to. In most cases you don’t know in advance who you will meet on the way – many encounters are spontaneous  and unplanned. But it is not necessary to bring something all the way from home: in case of need, you can also quickly get small gifts on the spot. This has the extra benefit of strengthening the local economy, and on the other hand it is usually much cheaper than in the home country. In situ, you will know more about what might happen the next day, and your guide will be happy to help you deciding what you could give to the hosts. If you are invited, for example, to a meal with a nomad family, he will advise you to get some fresh fruits and vegetables, as the nomads don’t have easy access to such foods.

As far as children’s gifts are concerned, we find balls, coloring pens, puzzles or other games and far more sensible than sweets. But if the idea is to give something typical from the home country, things like the Mozartkugeln from Austria or Finnish licorice are two good examples. Not only the children but also the parents will be happy to taste them!

 

A ball is a better and more lasting gift for children than chocolate and other sweets.

If you don’t want to bring certain things back home at the end of a trip, you can leave them in the host country too, especially if you think this will make someone happy. A good pair of sunglasses, which you would rather change for a new one, can be given for example to a horse handler in Ladakh, who often suffers from eye irritation due to the intense sun exposure. An old used (but not broken) fleece jacket or hiking pants may also find a very happy new owner. Such gifts are usually extremely well received, because high-quality trekking equipment is, in general, more expensive and harder to get in the host country.

And now the big BUT

Do not worry now about the big gift questions: What should I bring? How much should I bring? Should I plan in advance? There is absolutely no need to worry about it. Planning a trip is in itself already exhausting enough. Gifts are not a must and are usually not expected. If something spontaneous happens and there’s no material token available to give away, a well-intentioned thank-you with a sincere smile is worth at least as much. Because:

The best things about traveling are the unplanned experiences and unexpected situations, and finding new friendships that are not based on gifts and convenience.

The best things about traveling are unexpected, spontaneous encounters. Gifts and presents for the new friends are not necessary.

The best things about traveling are unexpected, spontaneous encounters. Gifts and presents for the new friends are not necessary.




More and more often, parents are daring to travel to Ladakh with their children. And why not? The country has also plenty to offer to small guests. Children actually usually adapt better to the height than their parents – probably because the kids are not thinking about it.

Here are some things that you should do with your children in Ladakh.

 

Our son Emil, just over one year old, on the mountain pass before Lingshed in Zanskar.

Things you should absolutely do when visiting Ladakh with children

Visit the Donkey Sanctuary in Leh

Buy some carrots at the bazaar of Leh and take them with you to the city’s Stray Donkeys home. The animals are always looking forward to children visiting. But a warning: some donkeys can be a bit… boisterous. 😉


Children are like doors into the hearts of people.

Live with farmers

You should absolutely spend at least a few nights in a farm. In the first place, the Ladakhi’s love and care for children is unmatched, and secondly, the kids themselves can romp about the farm and have a really great time!


Get out into nature!

Hiking and exploring

In Ladakh you should always take your children to the mountains and the high plains, let them marvel at the raw nature of this remote land. For children unaccustomed to long walks (or just lazy), you can also rent a pony or a donkey – an adventure in itself!


Even if Ladakh is rather dry, there is enough water to play with (and in)!

Picnic by the water

Always plan some time by the water. Ladakh can be quite hot in the summer, and a few hours next to the water (whether lake, river or small brook doesn’t matter) can do a lot of good both to child and parents: the former can splash and play while the latter rest and relax.


Camping!

Sleeping in a tent

Be sure to go camping for a night or two. Kids love it! Play outdoors during the day and watch the stars at night before sleeping.


Meet and interact with people. Here our son Luis visits the Munsel School – a school for children with mental disabilities.

Discover the world of local children

Children are curious and unbiased. Show them how children live in Ladakh by visiting a local school, a kindergarten or simply a family house.


 

Contact us
Your family trip to Ladakh

We would like to help you arrange your own personalized family trip to Ladakh. As parents of three children (who were already in Ladakh with just a few months of age), we have a lot of experience and suggestions about what to do with kids and what things are better to leave out of the program.




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Only recently we shared a post about how we don’t like to go around publicizing good deeds: Doing good the quiet way. Now we talk, and for a good reason.

 

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Girls from poor rural areas are the main targets of human traffickers. Photo: Nana Ziesche.

Human trafficking is one of the biggest problems in India

Nowhere in the world are more people traded than in India. Approximately 80% of the trafficked persons are women and children. Most of them end up as sexual slaves. It is estimated that up to 1.2 million children have been sold to Indian brothels.

We have been aware of these facts for a long time, but this issue is so monstrous and scary that one subconsciously tends to look away. What else could you do? Wear a cape and fly to the next brothel like a superhero to save the captive women and children? We are not superheroes and, unfortunately, we are not very brave either. After all, the human trafficking scene, with its brothels and red-light districts, is one of the most dangerous of India. Making money at the expenses of the innocent’s suffering requires a black soul and a bloody predisposition to violence, and the people behind it will defend their profit by any means necessary. It requires an immense know-how and incredible courage to venture into the shadowy alleys of the red-light districts to take the sex slaves out of their dark hellish existence and back into the light. Sadly, we can’t do that, so we researched and tried to find another way to help. And we found it.

 

 

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Betrayed, tortured and raped

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The traffickers are very creative when it comes to capturing women and children to sell to the brothels: they are promised a better life, or an honest work; women and girls are wooed with empty words of love, tricked into fake engagements, deluded by the prospect of marriage; most victims are drugged or coerced or simply kidnapped… However, the last step is always the same: they are sold to pimps (many of whom, especially in India, are women – the so-called Madams) who continue lying, manipulating, threatening and torturing until even the most strong-willed break. They usually lock the victims in dark rooms, or even tiny boxes without any light, and leave them scared and starving, torturing and raping them until they are agree to “voluntarily” sell their body several times a day. Many of them are still of primary school age, because the price of a virgin is very, very high.

While researching, we came across several organizations that have made it their goal both to prevent human trafficking from happening and to free and rehabilitate the women and children already affected. One of these organizations has especially inspired us.

 

 

Rangu Souriya, the angel from Darjeeling

rangu

By chance, we came across the project of Rangu Souriya, a social worker that has kept thousands of women and children out of the clutches of the traffickers, and freed many others from their nightmarish red light district prisons. With the backup of her own organization, she has the necessary experience, knowledge and, without a doubt, amazing courage to take this task upon herself. She has been threatened in several occasions, but Rangu Souriya doesn’t give up.

Obviously, the first thing one tries to do is to take the rescued back to their families and villages, but this often fails due the strict morality of village societies. On top of that, when the affected victims are infected with the HIV virus – unfortunately, there are too many cases – reintegration is very difficult. One of the biggest problems for Rangu Souriya is then finding a place to properly accommodate all these women and children.

And so, our idea was born.

 

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We don’t want to simply witness anymore, and that’s why we have started our own foundation, White Umbrella, whose primary purpose is to support Rangu Souriya.

We want to help her raise the approximately 21,500 EUR she needs to build and start operating a Victims Protection Center in Siliguri, West Bengal. In the long term, the rescued women and children should also have the opportunity to study and work there.

We have even spontaneously transferred almost 1,500 EUR, and launched at the same time a support campaign through social media.

 

 

 

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Help us to help; join us in giving sexually exploited women and children a chance.

How you can help?

  1. Friend and follow the White Umbrella Foundation on Facebook and Twitter
  2. Help us to reach more people by sharing posts and talking about it (you can also share this post)
  3. If you have the means, you can also donate

 

Our Bank account details

Donation account: White Umbrella
IBAN: AT382032032504917655
BIC: ASPKAT2LXXX

 

 

 

Our commitment to you

puppet

This is a completely non-profit initiative: every cent that finds its way to the bank account above, will be exclusively used for the project. For maximum transparency, we will also publish transfer statements and payment receipts on the social media pages of the White Umbrella Foundation. We are currently working on a website for the initiative, and will of course continuously publish information and documents there too.

 

 

If you are interested in the topic, we can also recommend you the following short documentary

 

This could be also interesting for you

beggar

Begging in india and how to react

They pull at your shirt, look at you with big supplicant eyes, one open hand outstretched, the other pointing to their mouth while they repeat the words “Chapati! Chapati! Madam, please!”. It hurts when children who have not even reached school age stand on the street, […]




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They pull at your shirt, look at you with big supplicant eyes, one open hand outstretched, the other pointing to their mouth while they repeat the words “Chapati! Chapati! Madam, please!”. It hurts when children who have not even reached school age stand on the street, filthy and half naked, and ask you for money with their large dark eyes and small empty stomachs. You don’t have to be a parent to feel the desire to help these poor little ones. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t automatically reach for your wallet and give them what they ask for. Here we will tell you why.

 

India is one of those states that in spite of a rapid economic growth still struggles with inequality, and hasn’t been able to find a solution to overspread poverty and the ancient tradition of begging. At the same time that a very small group of the population see their life quality soar along the official GDP number, there is a vast multitude of people who do not benefit from it at all.

 

What you should know about begging in India

We don’t want to dismiss the issue of poverty. It exists, it is bad, and it must be fought. But almsgiving is not the way to end poverty; in fact, it just makes clearer the difference between the rich and the poor.

Behind almost all beggars hide well organized gangs. To be allowed to beg in a given territory, beggars have to give a big part of their earnings to the gang leaders. Of course, you are hardly aware of this. Often the beggars are also crippled, blind or noticeably sick. There are even those who ask with open, festering wounds, and who clearly need the money for medical care. But too often are these wounds self-inflicted or caused by a gang leader to appeal to the tourist’s pity and collect a bigger booty.

 

(c) Josef Reifenauer

It is really hard not to give anything to the begging children. (c) Josef Reifenauer

It is also common to find women with (almost always sleeping) babies, begging for money so they can feed them. You should know that these babies are often “rented” and, even worse, sedated with drugs or alcohol. This keeps them quiet and still but evidently has harmful and irreversible consequences.

 

When you give money, you keep the system running

Beggars are always where the tourists are. They know how to appeal to your conscience and even if you manage not to give, you’ll somehow feel that there is something to be done. But what happens when every tourist gives every beggar something? Begging becomes an even more lucrative source of income, the big bosses behind the curtains get richer and bring more beggars into the scheme, to generate still greater profits.

So what to do?

  1. Never give money to the beggars. And look out for some really ingenious setups. For example, some “mothers” will ask you to buy formula or milk for their hungry babies at a nearby shop. What should one do, but to give them what they need? BUT the woman is actually working with the business owner: the money will be divided between them, and the milk will remain in the shop.
  2. Support local NGOs that try to keep the kids off the streets. This is sustainable and brings so much more than handing them 10 or 20 rupees. (At the end of this post you’ll find a few links to NGOs working with child beggars)
  3. If you still want to give something, then it should be food that you already bought, or even some of your time (this might sound ridiculous, but for a child who begs day after day, a few friendly words or a cool trick can make a world of difference).

 

Don’t make beggars out of children

In many places it’s also possible to find children who aren’t poor nor hungry and are begging just for fun. They have learned that tourists like to give candies or other small gifts (pens, etc.) indiscriminately. We understand that this is intended as a nice simple gesture, but it is also teaching the children that begging works. Many will turn their backs to school and instead run to the streets to follow the wealthy westerners, cheekily yelling “one pen”, “one chocolate”, “one bonbon” or even “one rupee”.

Gifts are ok, but take care of giving them only to people for whom you also show respect: when you are drinking tea with a peasant family, you can give a small present to the children of the house, as a gesture of gratitude. A planned visit to a school is also a good opportunity to do this.

 

 

Ladakh: Imported beggars

(c) Markus Brixle

Attractions draw in not just tourists, but also beggars. (c) Markus Brixle

At the beginning of every tourist season, and for many years now, several organized gangs of beggars are brought to Ladakh (sometimes even on an airplane!!!). These mostly establish their place of “work” in Leh or at the entrance to the most famous tourist sites. At the end of the season they are transported to some other lucrative place to continue their neverending begging. Ladakh itself has almost no local beggars; no one in Ladakh lives on the street. Please don’t give money to any beggars in Ladakh! As hard as it sounds, these poor people are not ladakhi and are usually brought here by greedy immoral gang leaders to profit on the good will and naivety of the tourists.

Sustainable help
The following NGOs have made it their goal to give begging children a better future:




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The quiet way? Then why do we write this post? Well, we have been thinking a lot about whether we should write it or not, and have finally decided to do it. Otherwise people could mistakenly conclude that we are environmentally and socially irresponsible. So let’s say it once and for all: we do good, we just don’t talk much about it.

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We brought ice skates for the children of the Khardong village

 

Good deeds

Since the founding of Gesar Travel in 2004, a lot of effort and money have gone into voluntary work and community projects:

 

  • More than 2000 EUR donated to the volunteer Austro-Ladakhi Project Help for Ladakh
  • Collection of ice skates in Austria and subsequent transport to Ladakh, where they were delivered to the children of the Khardong village
  • Financial support for the education of several Ladakhi boys and girls in a private school for a period of over ten years
  • Support of the Munsel School in Leh. The Munsel School is a school for children with mental handicaps
  • Financial support for the renovation of the monastery in the Khardong village
  • Continued (and continuing) allocation of interest-free mini-loans with the purpose of “helping people help themselves”
  • Ever since the beginning of his work at Gesar Travel, Tashi Wangail has repeatedly given young and talented but poorly trained Ladakhi the chance to better themselves – they have since trained, learned and gained a stable job with fair wages

 

munsel

For several years now, we have supported the Munsel School in Leh – a school for children with mental handicaps

Ecological responsibility without a label

We strive to act in an environmentally responsible way, especially in our everyday work.

Müll Ladakh

With the help of our horses, we always bring our trash back to Leh.

 

Environmental responsibility starts at home, and small gestures matter. We always point out to our guests that they should use their water reserves wisely, and we then show them the Dzomsa river in Leh, where it is possible to refill the bottles with drinking water, avoiding the need to buy new plastic ones. We also brief our chefs and guides to collect and bring the waste produced during our tours (consisting mainly of tin cans) back to Leh. This works so well that many of our team members collect and bring even the garbage of other groups!

Why we don’t really promote our good deeds

We don’t want to judge. Many companies proudly publicize every good deed done, and that’s ok. Sometimes though, we wonder about the real intention that lies behind the act: is it really about doing good or more about looking good? This is in any case irrelevant for the recipients of the aid, of course. Better a well marketed aid than none, period.

We will continue helping wherever we can. In little ways. Less sensational. Especially in those almost invisible cases that don’t easily lend themselves to big moving stories.

 

 




spacerThis post is not a theoretical essay on long-distance traveling with children: it is a collection of my own experiences as a mother of three who, for at least two months every year, packs her bags and takes her young on an adventurous journey. And no, it is not always a cheerful, problem-free scenario, and it sure requires lots of energy. But the workload at home is already heavy enough for a 3-times mother… So off to India!

By Daniela Luschin-Wangail (Mother of Elvis, 8, Luis Thayas, 4, and Emil Kenrab, 0)

The ultimate thrill

Are you one of those people who are always on the lookout for a new kick? Bungee jumping, skydiving and base jumping make you yawn? Then I have a great suggestion on how to get your adrenaline fix: take a baby, a stubborn child with Down Syndrome who loves nothing more than to resist parental authority and a know-all pre-pubescent boy, and sit with them in an airplane. Oh, did I forget to mention that the father is already at the destination point and won’t be flying with you? So forget any hopes of an adult helping hand. Believe me, there have been many exciting moments in my life, but none as nerve-racking as this. I was so worried I started losing my sleep several days before the actual trip. And then, surprisingly, it all works out (almost) like clockwork. The children somehow know that you can’t manage without their help and behave exemplary (the two younger ones were asleep most of the time). The stewardesses come in 5-minute intervals and ask kindly (pityingly, even) whether they can help you in any way, and you can even watch almost an entire movie on the screen in front of you. The babies that cry all around do not belong to you, and none of the passengers look disapprovingly at you, with that self-righteous expression that means something like “What kind of mother are you that can’t control your kid? Make it stop already!”

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Travelling with children? An extra pair of hands would be very useful!

 

Was I just lucky? Maybe. But then I was lucky because I have been traveling to and in India, with my child(ren), for eight years already. And there have been certainly some complications when flying with my boys, but nothing unsolvable. For example, a kid’s nose that wouldn’t stop bleeding even after trying different (and completely contradictory) methods suggested by the very excited flight attendants, until a doctor, answering to an on board call over the speakers, came as an angel and provided both immediate clotting and general relief. For the child I had a change of clothes ready (please never forget to bring one!), but I had nothing with what to replace my own blood-drenched outfit which caused a little chaos at the arrival port as some people thought I needed first aid.

Then there was that time when my dear middle son threw up an abnormal amount of his stomach contents all over the seat. The flight attendants, suddenly victims themselves of severe nausea, weren’t able to clean the mess, so I threw a couple of paper tissues on top, removed the bigger food bits I could find, and covered the seat with a clean towel from my hand luggage (Tip #2: Always pack a towel in your hand luggage!). My son, exhausted and with an empty stomach, slept peacefully the rest of the flight.

But in spite of all the stressful moments and energy-draining situations that take place during a flight with my children, I wouldn’t stay home for anything in the world. Even at home, things happen that will bring us to the brink of a nervous breakdown, and even there we are sometimes helpless and desperate. So why not change at least the scenery, so that the everyday horror scenarios shine with a new light? That’s another reason why I enjoy alternating my residence between Austria and India.

 

Es geht los, Baby!

Here we go, baby!

India is a paradise for kids

Only on the surface is Austria a great country for children. “Do not do that!”, “This isn’t right!”, “Please, be quiet!”, “Behave!”… I don’t know how many times I have to tell my children these things whenever we leave our house to go to public spaces (or other people’s houses). At the supermarket, at the restaurant, at the city offices, on the train, at the doctor, at relatives’ or friends’… Everything is clean, beautiful, calm and orderly. And it should stay that way. Children here become quickly disruptive factors. I am not one of those anti-authoritarian mothers who let their children do whatever they want. We are in Austria, after all, and they have to behave according to the country’s cultural rules. And they do… after I tell them so two or three or four times in a row 😉 But it’s sooo hard!
India on the other hand is just like a paradise! Children can be children. Run around. Be loud. Be naughty. Protest. Get dirty. Break stuff. Here, the burned-out, responsibility-choked mother can finally breathe and stop worrying. No one looks at you, shaking his head in disapproval. No one feels disturbed when your child runs endlessly in circles inside the restaurant. If you’re visiting someone’s home and something breaks or gets stained, and you reflexively scold the children, you are immediately stopped by the hosts, who tell you not to be so strict. They are still children after all! This will warm your heart and make you remember: oh, yeah, I’m in India! J

 

Daniela und zwei ihrer drei Kinder am Pangong-See

Daniela and two of her kids at Pangong lake

Lock up your worries

When someone asks me for advice about traveling with children, the first thing it occurs to me is that you need to stop worrying so much. Positive thinking brings positive experiences. Believe in yourself and your luck, ask the children to cooperate (even babies seem to understand this!). Don’t overthink things, don’t try to prepare for all that could go wrong. And this brings me to a very important aspect of long-distance travel with children: healthcare. For many parents, this is the top priority and seems to require a lot of thinking and preparation… well, I don’t consider it that big of a deal. I usually carry nothing but a Nureflex bottle (thank God for this miraculous panacea ;-)) and some band aids. There are no other drugs to be found in my luggage. Negligent? No, practical. India is one of the largest producers of generic pharmaceutical remedies in the world, so there’s no reason to worry, in case my children, or I, would need medication. Also, the country is home to many fantastic doctors – both trained in conventional medicine, or with an Ayurvedic or homeopathic background. I usually feel better supplied here than in Austria.

I don’t want to give the impression that our trips with the kids are always smooth and relaxed. But the alternative – staying at home – is, for me (us), out of the question.

I prefer to spice up the soup called life! 😉

Moments like this in Kerala compensate for everything