Read about one of Rotary's best kept secrets.

Rotary Friendship Exchange

Rotary Friendship Exchange – one of Rotary’s best kept secrets.
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A small but enthusiastic group of Rotarians and partners from District 9520 have just completed the outward leg of a Friendship Exchange with District 3040 in central India.
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The group comprised Simon and Lyn Sickerdick (RC of Murray Bridge), Roy and Sue Schmidt (RC of Mitcham), Lyn Muller (RC of Blackwood), Joseph Masika (RC of Edwardstown) and Peter and Meredith Ochota (RC of Somerton Park).
The Friendship Exchange commenced in the city of Indore, Madhya Pradesh (central India about halfway between Delhi and Mumbai).  We were greeted by our hosts with a string of “pearls”, a red rose and a great deal of excitement.  This was just the beginning of a very full schedule for the next 12 days.  Our hosts took us to their home through unbelievable traffic – no traffic rules seem to apply. We were subsequently told that traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and lanes on the road are just there for decoration!  We unpacked and headed off to an Indian wedding celebration.  What a way to be immersed into the culture of India. There were over 2000 guests and the setting was spectacular with glitter, flowers and gold decorations and about 50 food stalls with various vegetarian dishes from India, and surrounding countries – no alcoholic drinks, just “mocktails”. The groom arrived on a white horse with the male members of his family dancing to loud drums and music. The bride arrived being carried on a gold chariot. Our heads were in constant rotation taking in all the colour and spectacle.
Each morning our hostess cooked us breakfast typical of various parts of India and there was always an abundance of food. Our favorite was Uttappam, which is like a pancake made of fermented rice, split lentils and fenugreek seeds.
On our first day in Indore we visited 2 schools.
The Daly College was originally established under British rule 125 years ago for wealthy British families and Indian Princes.  The buildings and campus were beautiful and we met a cultural exchange student from Perth.
Emerald Heights International School is a privately owned school where every student has to do at least 1 hour of sport a day. 1200 students boarded at the school and there was every sports facility imaginable including a shooting range where several of our team tested their skills.
We visited a vintage car collection with over 150 cars and one was being restored using paint made from gold.
The evening was spent at an Indian Resort with traditional dancers, circus acts, magicians, monkey shows, fire-eaters and balancing acts followed by a traditional Indian meal served in the Indian village style sitting on the floor at a very low table. All these activities happened on the very first full day of our Friendship Exchange but this was only the beginning.
There was a 3 hour bus ride to Mandu the original fort capital of the Parmar rulers of Malwa. The fort and palaces are perched along the Vindhya Ranges at an altitude of 2,000 feet. We walked around the exquisite 15th century palaces built of stone and saw ornamental canals, baths, pavilions and were told of the water filtration system using sand and charcoal.  Originally there were 72 km of palace walls, but much was destroyed in the 1838 earthquake. It was a long day and perhaps a little too long for one member of our team who suffered a bout of the dreaded “Delhi Belly”.
The following day after visiting our hosts spectacular Tennis Club and our host’s son’s “War on Wheels” car rally organized by the Leo Club of Indore, we went to a Rotary project at the Robert Nursing Home Dialysis Unit. The RC of Indore City in partnership with the RC of Nurnberg-Rechswald in Germany donated several dialysis units for the not-for-profit hospital that provided dialysis for the poor.
Then it was off to more parties, a 50th wedding anniversary and a pre-wedding celebration where some of our group had henna hand paintings and the men were decked out in turbans.  We visited the spectacular Temple of Glass, a famous Jain Temple and in the evening attended the Rotary Club of Indore North for a very formal meeting where each of our team members gave a short presentation about themselves and their Rotary club activities.
Next day we were driven to Pratibha Syntex, a state of the art cotton manufacturing factory about 1 ½ hours away from Indore where we were treated to a grand tour.  This company grows, spins, weaves and dyes the cotton, and then sews it into garments for many well known brands. We were able to view the country side on the way and get some idea of country life – the drying of cow pads for fuel, the women in the field harvesting the potatoes, the small herds of goats being watched and cared for by women and children and the huge stacks of hay being transported either by camel cart or on trucks leaning precariously with their enormous loads. In the evening we had a dinner fare-welling us from Indore in at the home of Rotarian Viral Vadnere.
It was time to travel to our next hosts in Bhopal. We all boarded a 10 seater “Tempo” Traveller for the 200 Km journey. We were met by our hosts at Jawaharlal Nehru Cancer Hospital, which provides treatment for the poor. The hospital has 17,000 patients per year and is supported by the Rotary Clubs of Bhopal.  We then visited Shourya Smaraka, a memorial to the Indian defence force set in magnificence grounds and with extensive history about India’s involvement in numerous wars. In the evening everyone gathered at Rotarian Nilesh Mathrani’s house where we were treated to a traditional puppet show followed by a buffet of Indian food.
The following day we travelled to the World Heritage Rock Shelters Bhimbetka where we saw well preserved rock paintings which are 2,500 years old. Following this we visited Madnya Pradesh Tribal Museum.  We saw a wonderful display of the tribal life of indigenous people, their knowledge, traditions, art, culture and artifacts. The purpose of this amazing museum is to help people understand the various tribal societies that lived in central India.
A quick change of clothes and off to the Rotary Club of Bhopal Central meeting followed by dinner. Once again we were formally introduced with a floral garland, exchange of banners and an allotted time to talk about rotary in Australia.
The following morning we boarded the bus and travelled to the World Heritage Sanchi (Buddhist Centre) north of Bhopal. The history of this Centre goes back 2300 years when the Buddhists first came to India. It was an important Buddhist Centre till 12th Century when, after being plundered on numerous occasions, the Buddhists finally left.  The Japanese are currently restoring the extensive site rebuilding the Stupas (large dome buildings) and surrounds.
We attended a combined Rotary Club meeting in the evening and this was a social gathering.
We boarded the bus again in the morning to travel to Nagda. Every time we travelled in the bus we were accompanied by an Indian Rotarian to ensure a safe transfer to our next hosts. We stayed in guest rooms of Grasim, a purpose built town centered around a factory that produces synthetic cotton out of wood pulp. 8,000 people work at the Grasim factory and most live on the 90 acre site. There is also a Rotary Club on site and we attended their evening meeting. This was a little less formal and was held in the garden with entertainment from some very talented Indian Rotarians – followed by an impromptu performance by the Aussie contingent.
Two of our hosts Anish and Manoj from Indore met us to take us on the last stage of our friendship exchange. They accompanied us out of their District and into Rajasthan. We visited the amazing Chittorgarh  Fort covering 700 acres and surrounding the town of Chittor.  We travelled on to Udaipur where we stayed in a hotel for 2 nights. Udaipur is a very spectacular city built around a lake.  The Lake Palace Hotel in the middle of Lake Pichola is a favourite with the rich and famous.  At $5,000 a night we thought we just may give it a miss.  However we were told that the James Bond movie Topaz was filmed there and numerous film stars get married in the spectacular grounds.  We visited palaces, temples and heard stories about the rituals and the Gods. We went on a cable car to a temple above the city and watched the sun set over the city.
That was the end of our fantastic exchange.
Overall this was an amazing opportunity to experience the Indian culture, historic monuments, the friendly people, the food, and the hectic traffic – all while being hosted by Rotarians and their partners. This was indeed a great way to experience this wonderful country in a very secure environment, which is one of the great benefits of the Friendship Exchange programme.
We look forward to hosting the Indian contingent who will be visiting our district in June.
Meredith and Peter Ochota