Finally! Our Prince Came!

Fisher undergraduates Hanna Atiyeh, Roni Groebner, Elizabeth Navarre, Adela Pang and Joe Wimer share their cultural and professional development experience during their 3-week Global Projects Program in Jaisalmer, India.

When we arrived in India, the team believed that the scope of our project was to come up with a way to preserve the fort as a historical and cultural monument while increasing tourism and helping the multiple bodies of fort’s management to better communicate with one another. However, after interview multiple locals, we realized that the problems facing the city of Jaisalmer are more complicated and engineering based. The most prominent issue is the water seepage throughout the fort’s walls that is breaking down the infrastructure. The team identified this slow erosion and destruction as the most pressing issue. Essentially, if this problem is not fixed, the Jaisalmer Fort will slowly crumble away; and, without the fort, the main attraction of Jaisalmer for tourism will be gone. Furthermore, the residents living inside the fort are adamant on staying within the Fort because of their familial connections to the history of the fort. Their homes have been passed down within families for centuries. How they identify culturally and religiously is based on living inside the Fort;  it means everything to them to stay.

Global Projects Program India team

After hearing the locals’ concerns, researching possible solutions, and touring the Fort to see all the problem areas regarding the water seepage and sewage system, we devised a tentative solution: find the best, non-biased group of engineers to come and evaluate the condition of the sewage and draining system and apply for grants or find a source of funding for the infrastructure study. While we thought our tentative plan was feasible, we needed to wait on our meetings with our client, Crown Prince Chaitanya Raj Singh, to hear his feedback.

We met Prince Chaitanya the last week of our time in Jaisalmer. After a dinner where we got to know each other a little bit better, we were able to understand his situation more fully. We met multiple times over the next few days and began to work through how we could offer value-add deliverables.   After much discussion and brainstorming with the Prince, we propsed that the team:  1. Create a persuasive argument and presentation for Prince Chaitanya to use for future awareness and fund sourcing presentations; 2. Generate a strategic partnership analysis that outlines all of the possible sources of funding, engineering groups, and a timeline for the project; 3. Draw a map of key players/stakeholders and their relationships concerning the Fort and outlining roles and duties as well as suggesting ways to improve and clarify roles.

Global Projects Program India team

After returning to the USA, we will continue to communicate with Prince Chaitanya to further focus our plan. Through our class with Professory Tansky in the upcoming fall semester and with the help of our project Faculty Advisor, Heidi Eldred, we hope to create something of value for Prince Chaitanya and the city of Jaisalmer.

Train, Plane, Automobile… Elephant?

Fisher undergraduates Hanna Atiyeh, Roni Groebner, Elizabeth Navarre, Adela Pang and Joe Wimer share their cultural and professional development experience during their 3-week Global Projects Program in Jaisalmer, India.

Jaisalmer to Jodhpur to Delhi to Jaipur to Agra and back to Delhi. The second half of our time in India proved to be quite the road trip. Throughout the first two weeks of the Global Projects Program, the India Team was lucky enough to have amazing cultural experiences, shown in the first blog. We all thought it would be hard to top the generosity, history, and culture of Jaisalmer; however, I think we all fell in love with every city we visited.

We arrived in Jodhpur by train – a cultural experience itself. Traveling across India by train, watching the various towns pass by and interacting with domestic and foreign passengers, was certainly an unforgettable adventure. When we arrived in Jodhpur, we were welcomed by the most interesting couple who offered up their gorgeous haveli to us. The Canadian wife and Italian husband showed us another side to life in India as they had met in the city and lived there for over 20 years.

View of "Blue City"

The fort within the city of Jodhpur was well maintained and beautiful to any tourist who visited. Our group, however, received a top of the line experience with a tour given by the curator of the museum. He was able to explain, in depth, history, cultural significance, and even take us to various areas of the fort that were restricted to the general public. The “Blue City”, aptly named due to the blue hue of houses around the city, was a stunning site to see from the top of the fort. Our time in Jodhpur was short, but special.

After some unexpected delays in Delhi, we were able to hit the road to Jaipur – the “Pink City”. This time the Nepal team was with us. Driving through Jaipur showed great contrast to our time in Jaisalmer. The city was massive, monkeys were swinging from shop to shop, and the pink glow of the bustling city illuminated its beauty. In Jaipur, we also stayed at an amazing haveli. During our stay, we were able to watch traditional Indian dancing and even got an amusing puppet show.

Roni and Hanna riding an elephant

While the city was beautiful, I think almost all of us agreed that our favorite part was the elephant ride up the Amber fort. Yes, elephants! These gentle giants carried us up to the top of the Amber fort where our tour guide showed us another stunning piece of history. Not only did we get to see the Amber fort, we also were able to see an old-fashioned textile shop with hand blocking and looming. The shop created intricate works of art and offered us all more background on how they came to be. The adventures of Jaipur wore us all out enough to make the five-hour drive to Agra pass quickly.

About an hour outside of the city of Agra, we had time to stop by the Sufi Shrine. Recommended to us by Prince Chaitanya Raj Sing, we made sure to add this stop to our list – and we are lucky we did because it was another rich and diverse part of Indian culture. Our tour guide took us into the shrine and around the palace. From the pandering children to the emanate worshipping, this visit allowed us another glimpse into Indian culture. We all headed to bed shortly after arriving in Agra due to an early morning ahead of us. A departure time of 5 am seemed cruel, but proved to be a wise decision made by our tour guide. The early morning allowed us to visit the Taj Mahal during the sunrise and with minimal crowds; indeed, standing in one of the new Seven Wonders of the World among so few people in one of the most populated countries in the world was an enigma.

Taj Mahal

The beauty of the Taj Mahal was not exaggerated. From the blue pools to the detailed white marble on the Taj Mahal, our jaws were permanently dropped. The Taj Mahal truly wrapped up our trip to India in the most beautiful way. I know our experiences, the people we’ve met, the cultures we’ve grown to love (definitely including chai at every meal), and all the places we’ve visited will stay with the Global Projects Program teams forever.

Go Bucks!

Screeeeech…. Project Pivot

Fisher undergraduates Hanna Atiyeh, Roni Groebner, Elizabeth Navarre, Adela Pang and Joe Wimer share their cultural and professional development experience during their 3-week Global Projects Program in Jaisalmer, India.

Upon arrival in Jaisalmer, the team quickly learned that India is entirely different from the US in every way, shape, and form. Adjusting to these differences and finalizing our project scope at the same time was tough work. While we weren’t exactly sure where to start, we knew from our class with our Faculty Adviser, Heidi Eldred, that all good consultants start by asking lots of questions. Therefore, the first couple days were heavily based on tours, interviews, and learning about the fort, its issues, and how it functioned. We also began to develop our network in Jaisalmer through help from the Ohio State India Global Gateway, our tour guide, hotel manager, etc. We asked everyone we met for more introductions and, in this way, leveraged our initial connections.

The Jaisalmer team eating breakfast at "KB" with Lalu, Bhanu and Vimal
The Jaisalmer team eating breakfast at “KB” with Lalu, Bhanu and Vimal

Through various interviews and collaborations with locals, municipal boards, and NGO’s such as I Love Jaisalmer, the team began to see that the scope of our project was quickly evolving from what we originally thought it would be. It wasn’t “scope creep”; it was “scope pivot”!  We came into the project understanding that our task was to hold onto the “UNESCO World Heritage Site” designation and increase tourism in order to raise money to sustain the fort. In reality, we learned that the real need was not tourism; it was preserving the Fort in order to have any tourism at all by addressing the Fort’s water systems- primarily the sewage system.

the Fort’s water tank
The Fort’s water tank that has been leaking for the past seven years

The sewage and water supply systems are the biggest problems immediately facing the fort. There are breakdown issues with the sewage system and maintenance occurs frequently. Basically, the sewage chambers that help move sewage from homes to the sewer evacuation pipes often get blocked and are hard to access; there is a lack of proper drainage, which causes flooding; and the system itself was not installed properly. And sadly, a major overhaul that was completed last year is already in need of multiple fixes and repars. Though these problems are burdensome, it’s not merely about inconvenience. Flooding due to a lack of drainage causes slow water seepage into the Fort’s hilltop foundation and is taking its toll on the integrity of the hill and structural wellbeing of the Fort.

cast iron sewage chamber cover
This cast iron sewage chamber cover was made to accommodate easy access to the sewage chamber for repair. While practical, this cover is illegal. Most covers are cut-to-fit stone slabs cemented in place for aesthetic reasons as dictated by Archaeological Survey of India officials and present a huge obstacle to repair and maintenance.

Realizing that our project scope had shifted and the key question we needed to answer had changed, we sat down together as a group, brainstormed a list of water systems related questions, and then tried to find the best people to talk to about these questions. The manager of our hotel, Bhanu, was very kind and helped us connect with the right people, and from there we were able to get a good understanding of what we could to do or at least influence. Through Bhanu, we made three friends (Lalu, Gapu, and Vimal) who significantly aided in our research efforts as they were members of the NGO I Love Jaisalmer.

The next week was again heavily based on interviews, meeting up with the right people, and even taking a few tours to understand the breadth of the sewage and water systems problems. After this, we spent time figuring out how to finance such a large project with little to no money, and in a country affected by institutional corruption. As we continue to research these possibilities, we are awaiting news from Prince Chaitanya, our client, to get a cost estimate to fix or even overhaul the sewage system inside the fort.

Prince Chaitanya Raj Singh with Joe Wimer
A photo with Prince Chaitanya Raj Singh


Oh, The Places You’ll Go

Fisher undergraduates Hanna Atiyeh, Roni Groebner, Elizabeth Navarre, Adela Pang and Joe Wimer share their cultural and professional development experience during their 3-week Global Projects Program in Jaisalmer, India.

We can all remember the classic Dr. Seuss book read to us as youngsters by our beloved mothers, fathers, and teachers. However, if you asked any of our parents where in the world we would be, come summer of 2017, India would be close to the last place they would guess. Even two months ago, not one of our group members knew that May 2017 would be spent in the beautiful and culturally rich city of Jaisalmer. We use Dr. Seuss’s story as comparison because just like in the book, our journey has been one of excitement, adventure, frustration, and admiration. The time has come where we are on our own in a foreign place taking with us only the knowledge provided by our schooling and loving parents, and our physical bodies with their limitations that we would find soon enough.

[We] have brains in [our] head[s].
[We] have feet in [our] shoes.
[We] can steer [ourselves] any
direction [we] choose.
[We]’re on [our] own.
And [we] know what [we] know.

That being said, we would not ask for a different set of students for this trip. Our team is composed of five bright, intelligent Buckeyes with the common characteristics of adaptability and compassion. Adela Pang is a soft-spoken, inquisitive, food-courageous young woman. Elizabeth Navarre keeps things animated with her enthusiastic attitude and never-ending desire to understand culture, history, and personal narratives especially when interviewing new people. Joe Wimer can be described in one word: surprising. Joe is a man of many hidden talents and the rest of us often find ourselves taken aback by his unforeseen hobbies, interests, and stories. As for the two of us, Hanna and Roni, we honestly still have no idea how we made it this far.

After four flights and one bumpy car ride we finally arrived in Jaisalmer, the Golden City, home to the world’s oldest living fort. We not only have had the opportunity to see this amazing fort, but to reside in a hotel within the fort. The first few days were spent following our Ohio State contact, Priya Kurle, around the city like little ducklings. Truth be told, the five of us are enormously grateful for Priya’s help and guidance the first couple of days; indeed, we might not have made it without her. Our first thoughts of the city were hot, very hot, and extremely hot, but as we opened our eyes and ears we started to notice how colorful and full of life the city is. We can hear nightly Jain worship chants from our hotel balcony, the constant honks and beeps of motorbikes and rickshaws in the city below, the barks of dogs in the streets, and the hymns of school children in the morning. Each day we take in the infinite colors that the women wear, the gold sandstone repeated throughout the fort and surrounding city, and the kindness each person shows not only to each other, but to every living thing. Everyone told us that when we get here there would be cows – but did we truly understand what they were saying? No! All of us were intrigued by how many cows are in the streets. We estimate the cow to dog to person ratio to be about 1:2:8.

Anyone in Jaisalmer will tell you that tourists come for the fort and the desert; however, we have come to find that even though this is true, tourists stay for the people. Everyone has been very welcoming of our arrival, and not a fake or surface-level attitude. They authentically want us to be comfortable and experience their culture. We have spent many of our afternoons here talking with the most interesting locals in a backroom of a handicraft shop. These guys have looked out for us during our time here and conversed with us about topics ranging from our project to Indian history to American politics to Tom Hanks films. Where some  Americans may be more reserved to open up right away, our Indian family was able to joke around and make us feel comfortable from day one. Everywhere we go we are offered Chai Tea. Unlike the United States, where it is customary for a guest to either refuse or accept a beverage, in Jaisalmer you accept the beverage. Although we initially were hesitant about hot chai tea in 115 degree weather, we politely accepted. This hospitable practice has now become one of our favorite parts of this city.

We cannot begin to express how grateful we are for this experience. The things we have learned, the relationships we have built, and the memories we have made will all stay with us for the rest of our lives. One day, we will be telling our grandkids about the time we woke up to the biggest sand storm we had experienced, the time we saw some locals in Jaisalmer splinting the broken leg of a stray dog, or even the time we were escorted through the street by the Crown Prince of Jaisalmer. We appreciate all the efforts that got us here that have allowed us to experience all of the above. Our trip is still ongoing and we are all excited to see what else India has to offer – although, it will be hard to beat Jaisalmer!

Go Bucks!