Under the grey clouds and golden light of the setting sun, I found myself amid the lush rice paddies of Kerala, listening to enchanting folk tunes by India’s first “bamboo orchestra”. The young men – radio jockeys, carpenters and farmers in their everyday life – came together to revive their lost music traditions and handcrafted their own bamboo instruments by learning from DIY videos on YouTube (Also read: Offbeat Kerala: 11 Travel Experience to Inspire the Artist in You). They’ve gone on to perform with their innovative instruments at national and international shows, laying the foundations of fusion music based on sustainability principles.
Time and again, I’ve met people on my travels across India, who’re leveraging the power of their smartphones and the internet to transform their life. Recently, in Himachal Pradesh, I hiked for a couple of hours to reach a remote village perched on a hill and was surprised to see two elderly women huddled over a smartphone, browsing a Facebook page, exploring new designs for the clothes they planned to weave! In Uttarakhand, I came across a passionate conservationist building a network of conscious locals through a WhatsApp group, to monitor forest fires.
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For 400 rupees a day, they carry stones, mix cement and literally build the extension of the majestic Ki Monastery in Spiti. When we see a grand site like Ki, we’re wowed by the monks who call it home. But the real “wow” happens behind the scenes – by guys who work their asses off for 400 rupees a day. . . Quite aptly, I met them when I wandered down a little path behind the monastery, where they live in tiny makeshift homes and were washing up at the public tap after a long day’s work. They were shy at first, as was I, but when we got talking, they told me that Spiti isn’t like their home in Jharkhand. It’s nothing, they said, barren, brown, no trees. Unlike our Jharkhand, they said, with greenery, fields and pure water. . . Two years ago, when they began visiting Spiti over the summer to help build the new extension of Ki Monastery, their mistry (contractor) told them he was the one who had built the original monastery! How old is he, I asked amused. 40 or 50 years, they said. Well my friends, the monastery was built in the 14th century, then almost rebuilt in the 19th century, I doubt your mistry was alive at either of those times 😂 . . At that moment, surprised and then amused, they looked at each other and laughed heartily at their innocence and how they were going to call out the mistry’s bragging – and I clicked this 📷 . . Shot on #iphone8plus . #theshootingstar #incredibleindia #storiesofindia #voicesofruralindia #portraitphotography
Technology is at the core of my own digital nomad life too. So I’m delighted to partner with Airtel – the telecom network that has kept me connected all these years – to bring you inspiring stories of digital empowerment from around the country!
A personal connection with Airtel
Way back in 2007, I was at university in Singapore and travel blogging was nowhere on my radar. Airtel came to our campus to offer a lucrative internship, and the idea of working for a company set up by a visionary first-generation entrepreneur briefly drew me back to India. In retrospect, that experience exposed me to the many opportunities and challenges in the country, and paved the way for my eventual return to India, even as most of my friends settled into comfortable corporate lives in Singapore.
In 2011, I decided to quit my full-time job in Singapore and slowly began solo travelling across India. That was when Airtel became my network of choice. It offered far more widespread and reliable connectivity across India – especially the Himalayas – than any other operator, and empowered me to share many incredible encounters on the road.
Now, in 2019, life has come full circle as I partner with Airtel 4G in my capacity as a travel blogger, to highlight positive stories of how technology and network connectivity are fueling business, passion and everyday life in India, especially in non-urban areas.
Digital empowerment stories in India
I’ll be travelling across India to find inspiring stories of people, especially women in rural India, who are using Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Google, WhatsApp, text messages and other phone tools to solve everyday challenges, find a market for their products or connect directly with the outside world. I’ll be documenting these stories on Instagram with #ConnectedbyAirtel and on this blog – and hopefully going a step further by asking you to support these individuals in creative ways.
Perhaps you’ve met an artist on your travels who recently learnt to use YouTube to innovate a traditional craft; perhaps a mother in a countryside village who is using google to help her children study; perhaps a rural family running their business through WhatsApp? I’d love to hear about these stories, find the people in them and document their lives – in the hope that the digital revolution in India will continue connecting people, bridging the urban-rural divide and creating new economic opportunities across the country.
Have you come across someone in non-urban India using technology in a positive, empowering away?
*Note: I wrote this post as part of my digital empowerment campaign with Airtel. Opinions on this blog, as you know, are always mine.
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I’m the founder of this award-winning travel blog about offbeat and sustainable travel, and author of the bestselling travel memoir, The Shooting Star.
In 2011, I quit my full-time job, and gradually gave up my home, sold most of my possessions, stored some in the boot of a friend’s car and embraced a nomadic life.
Connect with me on Instagram to hear more about my adventures and personal journey.