As a Malayali from “the land of Kathakali, flavourful karimeen and an impressive literacy rate, I have always thought that there is no place better than Kerala,” says Tojo Jose, president of RC Angamally, RID 3201, who, along with seven other Rotarians, recently completed a 21-day Rotary Peace Rally, flagged off by DG Rajmohan Nair in Angamally, to Leh, Ladakh. On the second day of the rally just a few miles into Karnataka “we drove past picturesque rural landscapes with vast fields, coconut groves and charming villages, all as beautiful as my hometown. We ate ghee masala dosa right off the tawa at a small roadside canteen and suddenly the karimeen seemed less glamourous. This rally shook me off my biased beliefs and fostered in us a sense of empathy and respect for other cultures.”
The 3,400-km rally route included a mix of highways and rural roads, introducing them to new lands, people and experiences. “We visited four Rotary clubs, exchanged flags and saw first-hand the wonderful work Rotary is doing across the country. We were impressed by the projects and felt inspired to do more to help our community back home,” says Jose.
The rallyists visited a gurudwara and were impressed by how “everyone was welcome to break bread at the langar, promoting inclusivity, diversity and humility, similar to our vision in Rotary to embrace diversity and serve those in need with humility.” The meal itself was “simple and wholesome consisting of basic items like dal, roti, sabzi and kheer. It was not fancy, yet it was one of the best meals of my life.”
Their biggest disappointment was during their visit to the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel statue in Gujarat. “We were awed by the grandeur of the statue, built with crores of rupees. However, the sanitation and hygiene standards in the toilets here were extremely poor. We couldn’t help but wonder why such an iconic tourist spot lacked proper facilities for its visitors,” says Jose. He also recalls the time their car broke down because of overheating and a truck driver offered to drive two of them to find water.
When the Rotarians felt a yearning for the Malabar-spiced Suleimani chai, they stopped by a local Punjabi dhaba on the outskirts of Amritsar. Not only did the dhaba owner allow them to make the tea in his kitchen but he was “so impressed by its taste that he added the flavourful tea to his dhaba menu,” Jose smiles.
At a village near Turtuk, close to the Line of Control between India and Pakistan in Ladakh, they were struck by the humble lifestyle of the people there. Despite not having access to the luxuries of big comfortable homes, cars and fancy gadgets, the villagers seemed content, living off a small kitchen garden and few farm animals. It was an eye-opening experience for Jose, who reflected on the stark contrast between his own life and theirs.
One of the biggest challenges in the village, he says was, “the lack of access to education for the children. Here is an opportunity for Rotary to make a difference. By starting a literacy project, we could change the lives of these children, and in the long run, the future of the village.” To support the rural community, they purchased a few souvenirs for friends and family.
He notes that the Rotary Peace Rally was an opportunity for his club members to step out of their comfort zone, build new connections and learn to trust strangers. “This experience brought us closer and helped create enthusiasm within the club. It gave us a clear understanding of how Rotarians can work together and with other organisations to create peace in their communities.”