Abbie Synan recently joined the Purposeful Nomad and Wanderful trip to India, where she learned about the Sambhali Trust. Find out about their work and how they’re empowering women in Rajasthan. Looking for a group trip to join? Check out our women-owned trips database right here.

Our group climbed out of the van and stepped onto the warm, tanned dirt road. The heart of Setrawa is a far cry from the bustling streets of Delhi, where we had just been. This was our introduction to Rajasthan, the Indian state of colors. 

The blue city, golden city, and red city all make up this northern province. The colorful names for Jodhpur, Jaipur, and Jaisalmer are fitting; much like other parts of India, the region is vivid and lively. 

Our Journey into Rajasthan

While quieter than the urban sprawls, even the smaller villages of the Thar Desert have big city parallels. We are trading tuk-tuk traffic jams for a herd of cattle or goats moving through the streets. Women draped in stunning vibrant saris stroll together through town, and men huddle on stoles outside of the teashop, hunched over their newspapers, sipping chai.

 

close-up of henna being done on an arm - Sambhali Trust, Rajasthan

Photo credit Abbie Synan

A quick village tour proved equally interesting for our group and for those who reside in Setrawa. When a gaggle of smiling, chatty women come barreling onto your street, it is bound to cause a commotion. 

Walking down “Main Street” learning about the different artisans and visiting the local markets was the best introduction of the day-to-day in the village.

Our guides, Govind and Virendra, are practically residents of Setrawa. Waving and visiting with locals they have known or worked with, it is quickly apparent that a tight-knit community resides here. 


Read next: The “Invisible Boundaries” Between Indian Women and Travel


While this introduction to the village was impressive, the even more remarkable community we met was the smaller one that lives and breathes with the women of the Sambhali Trust.

At the end of our city walk, our final destination was a blue building oozing warmth and hospitality from its doorway. Here was the true reason for our trip to this small desert village. 

We came here to learn from and to engage with the women of the Sambhali Trust program, gaining a small insight into how they live, who they are, and all they have accomplished as individuals and as an organization.

 

The Sambhali Trust building in Rajasthan India - Abbie Synan with Purposeful Nomad and Wanderful

Photo credit Abbie Synan

About the Sambhali Trust

The Sambahli Trust was created in 2006 as a way to facilitate women’s empowerment in Setrawa and Jodhpur. These empowerment centers are places of hope within communities where women in India are struggling.

Although the government has laws that prohibit discrimination based on caste, India still exhibits social caste discrimination. This often creates barriers for advancement. Gender discrimination specifically impacts a girl’s opportunities, both economically and educationally. 

While many may view the caste system as an ancient social structure, it is still very much practiced and followed in modern-day India. 

Sambhali, which means the “rising of deprived women” is an opportunity to assist women in Rajasthan with the tools they need to transcend their castes and help to erase the stigma that these are broken communities. The Trust is aimed towards helping the Dalit members of the social caste, otherwise known as the “untouchables”.

The programs are varied and growing within the Sambhali NGO, beginning as a center for education and now blossoming into sixteen different initiatives. There are now several centers, two boarding homes, a boutique shop, self-help groups, and special education projects. 

Sambhali empowerment centre

Photo credit Purposeful Nomad

The Sustainability Model of Sambhali Trust

The program itself has a self-sustaining aspect, where many of the women who have been graduates of things like the sewing studio have now returned to educate current students. 

Once graduates have completed the program, they are given a sewing machine of their own and aided in starting their own business, giving them financial freedom and newfound self-esteem. 

Current students can see the progress and advancement made from alumni of the Trust and the cycle of positive role models continues.

The goal of Sambhali is to promote self-esteem, education, financial independence, and vocational skills for disadvantaged women in Rajasthan. Providing access to these opportunities offers women and girls a way to rise up within their own community, while also providing an example for others to do the same.

A particularly inspiring aspect of the project is that it is run and managed by locals. The volunteers are long-term participants that are both international AND national. Voluntourism can be a contentious topic, so to see the emphasis on local and national supporters from India is a promising sign that the passion and dedication to “help your neighbor” is thriving. 

 

woman in a pink sari working on a sewing machine at the Sambhali Trust in Rajasthan during a Purposeful Nomad trip with Wanderful

Photo credit Abbie Synan

Travel to Rajasthan with Purposeful Nomad

The Purposeful Nomad trip to India had the perfect combination of a vacation with local, philanthropic connections. Purposeful Nomad partnering with Wanderful for an adventure through Rajasthan is another ingredient in a recipe for an essential Indian vacation. 

women gathered together and laughing - Purposeful Nomad travel to India

Photo credit Purposeful Nomad

In addition to our priceless interactions with the women and girls of Sambhali Trust, the trip wove in elements of feminism and comradery. 

One of the more memorable and poignant parts of the trip was when we were invited to participate in an International Women’s March with women’s equality advocates through the streets of Jodhpur. 

I think it nearly brought tears to all of our eyes to have the honor to walk with these women in public defiance against the patriarchal system that they live with each day. Daughters, teenagers, mothers, and grandmothers all came together. They were a sea of pink saris carrying signs, chanting, and demanding equality for all women. 

It will be a travel memory that will be forever etched in my humanitarian mind and my feminist soul. 

 

Women of Rajasthan in pink saris carrying torches for women's rights

Photo credit Abbie Synan

While much of the Purposeful Nomad & Wanderful trip focuses on Sambhali and the work they are doing in the communities, it was not without other magical moments. 

Sharing a delicious chai tea while sitting high on the dunes of the Thar Desert watching the sunset…marveling at the splendor of the Taj Mahal while the sun rose over the banks of the Yamuna River. 

While each trip is guaranteed to be an enjoyable success, Purposeful Nomad always has a few surprises that will make your holiday truly special and unique. We had the chance to have tea with the Prince of Jaisalmer, an unexpected opportunity to meet royalty on vacation and not something to find on the itinerary. 

It was traveling with like-minded women and meeting other inspirational local women that made this a once-in-a-lifetime journey that no other itinerary can recreate. Having a chance to witness even a glimpse of the perseverance and fortitude that the women and girls of Sambhali Trust possess was a gift that only impactful and intentional travel can provide.  


Ready to travel with purpose? Join us in Bali!


 

Abbie Synan
Abbie Synan is a freelance writer and travel blogger who has been traveling full time and working remotely since 2013. She focuses on ways to be a more mindful traveler and responsible tourist on her blog, Speck on the Globe.

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5 Comments

  1. Hi Abbie! I just came across this post while I was looking for women only group tours to India… my research got me in touch with several travel companies in India that arranges group tours for women. There is a travel company that goes by the name Alluring India Tour that operates the world’s only copyrighted tour known as ‘A Princess’ Diary’. What fascinated me about this tour is that it includes a visit to a charitable institution. Another highlight (as I’ve been told) is a special day in an 18th-century palace where you will be pampered and dressed like a real-life princess. This tour seems pretty interesting to me and may interest you as well.

  2. Hello, Great to read about womens experiences of India. I have been twice myself, hosting a large group of 17 women the first time (Canadian women) and second time much smaller group of 6 and the magical experience of that more intimate travel mostly in Jaisalmer. I am a travel agent and focus on Womens Travel Club and travelling together as women. I write a personal blog and this was my reaction to my first trip to Delhi … https://pamelatravelblog.com/2016/02/14/old-delhi-still-assaults-my-memory/ So grateful for the opportunities. Looking forward to going to India again – ideally I would like to go there every year…. to write, to experience and reconnect with good friends. All the best to you and thanks for this blog. Pamela

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