Lamberts overlook India’s poverty to see the country’s beauty

Girl Scout Troop planned the trip; one family actually traveled 

By Tina SnellStaff Writer

Girl Scout Troop 793 in Little Falls saved its money to travel to the Girl Scout World Center in Pune, India. When the departure date loomed, just Julie Lambert and her daughter, Rachel, 16, left for a trip of a lifetime.

The Lamberts, who live west of Little Falls, spent 15 days in India from June 25 – July 10.

“We started planning to go to Pune, India, four years ago,” said Julie. “But one by one, the families dropped out.”

Pune is one of four Girl Scout World Centers. The other three are in London, England; Cuernavaca, Mexico; and Adelboden, Switzerland.

Rachel, left, and her mother, Julie Lambert traveled to India recently. They spent one week in Pune at the Girl Scout World Center and another five days in Mumbai. They are pictured standing in front of an entrances to one of the caves on Elephanta Island in Mumbai Harbor.
Rachel, left, and her mother, Julie Lambert traveled to India recently. They spent one week in Pune at the Girl Scout World Center and another five days in Mumbai. They are pictured standing in front of an entrances to one of the caves on Elephanta Island in Mumbai Harbor.

“The World Centers were created to gather Girl Scouts and Girl Guides from around the world so they can connect with different nationalities and with each other,” said Julie.

The Centers have events throughout the year. The cost to attend includes lodging, food and entrance fees to the local sites.

“This event in India was called, ‘The Essence of India,’” said Julie.

Pune, located in the western part of India, is the eighth largest city in the country. It has a population of more than 5 million people and is known for its manufacturing, automobiles and information technology.

The Lamberts spent seven days there, learning about the culture of the Indian people.

Julie and Rachel toured the city and walked the near neighborhoods. They even rode rickshaws, similar to a small  Volkswagen Beetle.

“We did learn that we had to be insistent about how much to pay for a rickshaw or taxi ride,” said Julie. “Just because we were visitors, drivers expected they could charge us more.”

The Lamberts were taken to the City of Child, an orphanage that houses children with either one or no parents. Families who do not have the money to support their child, give them up to the City of Child.

“One oddity was that as of this year, they only took boys,” said Julie. She said the children live there and receive their education.

“There are two types of schools in Pune,” she said. “One is the government schools which are free. The others are English Medium schools which charge tuition.”

Julie said that parents will sacrifice almost anything to get their children into an English Medium school. It means increased job opportunities, a better future and just more for their children.

The children in the orphanage go to a government school, unless they have a sponsor. And, depending on how much that sponsor pays, determines the quality of the education.

Rachel said her most vivid memory of the trip was how colorful the stores and homes were, in contrast to the garbage-filled streets and the air pollution.

Julie enjoyed watching a pilgrimage of about 60,000 people who walked for 22 days from two separate Hindu temples. During the walk, oxen pulled two-ton, elaborately decorated, palkhis (like large chariots) carrying replicas of the deities Lord Jagannath and his brother and sister Balabhadra and Subhadra. The festival re-enacts their sacred journey to Pune.

“We stood outside the Center and watched. What was funny was that many of these people had never seen a white person and we had to take lots of pictures standing with them,” said Julie. “There were so many people around us, the police were called.”

Other side trips in the 100-degree weather included the castle where Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned and the Pavati Temple where the two had to climb 71 steps large enough for elephant feet up a steep hill.

The Lamberts said the food was spicy, but good. Most meals consisted of rice with dahl (a spicy gravy), potatoes and flat, doughy bread.

“There was very little meat as most people in India are vegetarian,” said Rachel. “And the desserts were over-the-top sweet.”

One of their favorite sights on the streets was seeing not one or two or even three people on a motorcycle. They would see up to six people riding on that mode of transportation.

“That’s carpooling,” said Julie.

For the final five days of the trip, the Lamberts were in Mumbai, the capital of India. It was formerly known as Bombay and has a population of more than 20.7 million, making it the fourth largest city in the world.

Rachel said the highlight of Mumbai was the shopping, and Julie was enthralled with Elephanta Island and its caves located in the Mumbai Harbor.

“We took a boat trip to the caves containing carvings from around the 11th century,” said Julia. “It’s in ruins from when the Christian Portuguese explorers came in the 17th century and destroyed many of the carvings.”

While the Lamberts saw many devastating sights, such as people living in the streets and poverty so rampant, it’s hard to believe they would recommend the trip to anyone.

Julie said the people are very proud of their country and even at the movies, they stand up and sing the national anthem.

“We would love to return to spend more time there with the wonderful people and learn the language,” said Julie. “We were so impressed with the generosity of the Indian people and how they went out of their way to be good hosts, no matter how poor they were.”