Saturday, April 29, 2006

Mountain Living

Here are a few more images from my time in the mountains.

The first image is my friend and school building coordinator, Chauwon-Ji, and a couple of the students who will be attending. The second image is an older couple from the village whose son will be sending his children to the school when it opens.

All of the homes in this region of India are completely built out of wood. The wood is almost entirely connected by hand carved joints and the homes are just magnificient. The third image is a door and the lock which extends from the intricate metalwork in the center of the door.

Finally, cutting onions and preparing for dinner. Notice Pandit-Ji in the background happy and clean after his bath from yesterday's entry.

Love to all.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Buses, Trucks & Donkeys...

I returned to the city of Dehradun last night. My journey from northern Uttaranchal started at 5:30 am when I work up for chai and then didn't end until thirteen hours later when I finally stepped into my home. As the bus I was travelling on, made it's way up the last mountain range before the start of the plains, a mammoth storm began to approach from high hills. Dark armaggedon-esque clouds preceded by ferocious gusts of wind, spewing up storms of dust hit us on the last leg of the day long journey. The sky was an untucked, bunched up, down comforter of grey and black clouds. It reminded me of a Minnesotan storm just before the tornado siren sounds.

My five day journey was fun and relaxing. I left Dehradun on Sunday. I should have known that transportation woes awaited me, as the first bus I jumped on broke down within minutes of boarding.

Before my trip began, my friend, Kriparam, and I loaded up a truck with cement, pipes and other materials for the construction of the primary school in Tati. The truck was driven by Kriparam's buddy, Ashish. Our destination was two hundred kilometres away, through horribly dusty and bumpy Himalayan roads.

The drive took two days. The truck was filled with cement and thus, very heavy. The engine overheated every hour and we had to stop and look for a water source to cool down our hot horse power. Adding inslult to injury, we had a punctured tire late at night and attached to the roof were six metal pipes, each twelve feet long- all of which needed to be continually re-tied. We trip frequently came to a halt.

Forty eight hours later, we finally made it to the trailhead at Tati. After a lovely meal of rice, chapati and daal, we went to sleep at a local resthouse. When we woke the next morning, the mountains were still covered in the black of night. We spent the next three hours following three donkeys carrying cement up a five thousand foot mountain.

Ah yes, the true joys of living and working here in India. If only to wake up at dawn to follow donkeys up a mountain!

The first two photos are a few of the workers who build the school. Some are local fellas and others have come from far away states and places- Bihar, Faizabad... The third photo is my friend, Pandit-Ji, in the middle of a bathing session. The fourth is a hill I retreated to for a nice nap and a friend who came along. The final photo is at the start of my day long journey back to Dehradun, cruising on the roof of a jeep at nine am.

Love to all.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Recycle & Bicycle

People figure out ways to reuse almost everything here. Old newspapers are turned into bags. The same bicycle is fixed and then fixed again- for generations. Disposable lighters are refilled. Plastic disposable dishware is almost non existent and if one does find it- the fork, spoon or plate is washed after, and reused. Shirts are stitched. Pants are patched. Shoes re-soled. Booties cleansed with H2O. Not TP. Dented cars are banged out. Buses are just old and get older with every kilometre.

Friends, we gotta start recycling. We gotta put down our car keys and get them legs a moving, give our thighs some excercise and pedal. Pedal our bicycles.

This image is old chips, biscuits and namkeen packaging cut, styled and hung by string- spaced with old plastic ink pen innards.

And... The Ram Lila Production from the view of the audience.

Tomorrow I am off to the high himalayas for six days. More to come at the end of the month.

Love to all.

Friday, April 21, 2006

3 O' Clock Roadblock...

Where has the truth gone?

Governments have always tried to test how far they can go in terms of cracking down on civil liberties. The reality of this scheming has never been more true, it has never been realer, more tangible and increasingly frightening in my lifetime than right now, today.

The current government of the USA, perhaps, is the worst liar of all. The words out of the mouths of those in charge of America blanket the reality of their actions. Their smart bombs couldn't be more stupid. Civil liberties have been dwindling, minute by minute they continue.

Nepal, India's northern neighbor, has been in the news, daily, here in India. King Gyandera, the current head of state, has imposed a curfew for the nights and then today, during the day. He has given the army a "shoot to kill" policy- anyone on the streets during these curfews may be killed. In the past two days hundreds have been injured and dozens killed. Bodies have been taken from local hospitals by the army in the middle of the night...

"Why can't we roam... this open country...Oh why can't we be... what we want to be... We want to be free..."

Love, peace & health to all.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Ram Lila

I made my way to the village of Lakhamandal to attend one of the largest melas in the Garhwal countryside. My good friend, Narayan, lives there and I spent the weekend staying in his home. All of his extended family had come back for the festival and the room I lived in housed ten guys every night- four on the bed and six on the ground.

The mela went on for five days and saturday is always the biggest day. Villagers flock to the small main street and I would guess there were close to six thousand people there, all packed in tight. Vendors who travel the mela circuit arrived on friday and set up shop- jelebis, ice cream, cucumbers sliced down the middle with a dusting of chat masala, bangles, sunglasses, chow mein, thousands of plastic toys for the kids. The place was jam packed, elbow to elbow.

In the midst of this swarm of people, two cows somehow found their way to main street. The cows, understandably upset by the madness and the throngs of people, attempted to escape by running straight into the crowd. Their reaction caused a running of the bulls response by the crowd and people swarmed to the side of the road. The owner of the cows hung onto their tails running with the animals for dear life. In the confusion and stamped a jelebi wallah lost his tarp, as people swarmed his workspace and the plastic went up in flames.

Every evening the Lakahmandal Ram Lila Committee staged scenes from the famous Hindu story, The Ramayana. An elaborate stage was set up on the ground of a 1200 year old temple and local men played the various parts. The star characters of the production were Ram and Sita, who end up marrying. The actors would tell and sing the story. A band accompanied the performance.

The production started around ten at night and lasted till three or four in the morning every evening for four consecutive nights. The audience filled the courtyard of the temple every night and numbered in the hundreds. During the set changes various variety acts performed and sang Garwhali songs. Narayan insisted that I go onstage and sing. I bowed to the peer pressure and sang my favorite Hindi song, "Aaj Mausum Beiman Hai" and then my favorite Burning Spear song, "Door Peep." The audience enjoyed my performance but hinted at a mixture of bewilderment and confusion.

Love to all...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

School Days

I'm bursting with joy. I have so many photos I want to share but I just don't know where to start.

Monday morning at the RLEK Khausasi Primary School starts with a straightforward inspection of every student's cleanliness. Toes, fingernails, clothes, from top to bottom are inspected. Since most of the students spend their afternoons herding cows and goats, roaming the nearby mountains for wood and fodder, the theory is hopefully on Monday everyone can arrive at least slightly clean.

Witnessing the cleanliness inspection was a little hard to take. A few of the kids had some dirt on their ankles and their fingernails, I guess they just didn't make the cut and my co-teacher, Pushpa Madame, used the age old smackdown and walloped a couple of the kids on back of the noggin. Two others got their ears pulled, Roald Dahl "Matilda"- Miss Trunchbull style. And then one unlucky lad got his hands smacked with a stick for throwing rocks on the roof of the school over the weekend.

The students are incredible. They show up to school with whittled away sharpened pencils, small lead poking out both ends and the pencil, itself, merely the size of the eraser head on one of our famous number two's. Each day the kids rock the same ole' ragged uniform, torn from rummaging through the mountains and constant wear.

I taught english and art for a week. The kids love being given a fresh white sheet of paper, no lines, and some crayons. Draw your dream home- always more room for the animals than the family. Draw your favorite animal- to understand that your lion can be yellow or blue, purple or red!! Truly awesome!!

I slept outside on the verandah of the school and cooked rice and daal every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. One evening a ferocious storm rumbled down from the big mountains. I've never seen anything like it before. Winds coming in at 100 kilometres an hour, rains and hail the size of golf balls lashing my aluminium (al-uew-min-e-um) roof. The decibel level was incredible and I had to retreat from the verandah to a small room reserved for the teacher. I tried to fall asleep, but the noise and a small country mouse scurrying beneath the flicker of a candle kept me awake till dawn.

Love to all...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Sense of Space- Travels To Tati...

The city of Dehradun greeted me with open arms on monday evening after a twelve day trip to the himalayan mountains. The journey was fun filled and jam packed with multiple expeditions and program changes. It was a challenging, tiring and trying time. Schools were being built, students were learning, teaching, drawing and playing. Ferocious storms brewed and later boiled. Kids came to school without pencils, without paper, without kicks. Each sported the one school uniform purchased, months, perhaps years old- tattered, dirty, ragged. Teachers were smacking when the kids were slacking.

In another village there was dancing in the streets, cows were on the loose causing havoc, disrupting jelebi frying, burning ankles and plastic tarps. The nights were alive -with thanks and praise to the Lakahmandal Ram Lila Committee- three in the morn' lavish productions of the Ramayana. Family reunions, beds filled with four fellas and four more on the floor. Boys were flirting with girls and girls with boys, the likes of I've never seen before in India.

But this is all on the way, day by day...

The first five images from my voyage are a sense of space and might require a click on each photo for better enlargement, for better understanding and feeling.

One image is from the hike to Tati school. The school is being built fifteen kilometres from where the road abruptly stops and within a few kilometres from the border of Himachel Pradesh- the neighboring state to the west/northwest. To get to Tati, we had to walk a trail going straight up the mountain. The image shows a spring emerging from the mountain. The local villagers have carved a beautiful greeting for the arrival of the sacred water. Just up the trail I met a young shepard.

Another shows blooming sarson flowers (mustard seed plants) and the higher Himalaya in the background. The scattered village of Tati is on the hill to the right. The school is being built over on that hill.

More images are of the village of Tati. Every day, donkeys carry bricks to the site where the school is in the progress of getting built. The village of Tati has perhaps, the most beautiful homes I have ever seen. The roofs are covered with exquisite stone and each home is built with local wood. I didn't see a nail the entire time I was there.

Love to all & more to come...

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

and with this...

I am off to the mountains for a couple of weeks. My ngo, Rural Litigation & Entitlement Kendra (RLEK), is building two primary schools in the Uttarkashi District of Uttranchal. I am going to oversee some of the building and to make sure things are in order for the May 8th opening of both schools. You should see how fast things get built in this part of the world.

From what I have been told, one of the schools is nine kilometres from the roadhead. To build the school we have been hiring donkeys (at 200 rupees a trip) to haul bricks from the truck at the trailhead to the building site. I will be spending a lot of time organizing materials, drinking chai, smoking a beedi or two and reading. All this amidst the high mountains of the himalayas, about 300 kilometres from the Tibetan Border. I look forward to returning to Dehradun with some lovely images, good stories and my clothes emitting my favorite cologne in the world- the warm smell of a fire.

Love to all.

Monday, April 03, 2006

One Tree in India

I love trees.

I love the way the branches extend high into the sky and how the roots search deep into the ground for water and nourishment. I love the fruits of the trees in India- papayas, mangoes, mulberries, jackfruits, bananas...

I love the birds and the monkeys, the bees and the little squirrels that called these houses their homes. I love the shade that these trees unselfishly offer us.

Love to all.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


Chai, chai, chai!!!

Garam chai!!!!

Love to all.