So I’ve now been on the project two weeks. In some ways it’s gone quick but in many it feels like I have been here much longer which I guess can only be a good thing.
Finished work last Friday about 1pm then quick lunch and time to head off to the backwaters for the weekend. It was always going to be a long trek to get there but having been there before I knew it would be worth it! First stop Madurai to the tailors to get some made to measure long cotton trousers. I was getting fed up of being bitten so decided I could sacrifice shorts for a few months. And a cost of £3 a pair couldn’t go wrong really!
Last time I went on the sleeper train we traveled second ac, this time we were sleeper class, cheapest seats. You do get an allocated seat but because we booked late and were on the reserve list we ended up with 2 beds between 4 of us! I’d spent most of week one going to bed about 10 because I was so tired so staying up until 11.15pm when the train left and prospect of half a bed for 9 hrs was not very appealing but hey this is India.
The guide who had been working on our 2 week trip text and said bribe the ticket inspector to get you more beds. It seems a financial bribe will get you anything in India. Thankfully no bribe needed, think the ticket inspector took sympathy with 4 jaded westerners and found us two more beds. Slept surprisingly well woke up about 7am. Train was due in about 8 so at 7.30am I jump down from the top bunk to meet up with the others, hadn’t realised then it was a bad move. 3 of us sat on one of the beds which was fine but then at the next stop a load of people got on. They shuffled around us and sat with other Indians but it was starting to get cramped. It’s now 7.45am so I thought ah it’s ok we’re getting off soon and that’s when someone said the train is running 3 hrs late! For the next few stops more and more people got on, there literally wasn’t an inch to move! This was my first real experience of cheap Indian transport so although quite amusing I was starting to wonder how many more people would get on.
3 hrs later and we arrive at the houseboat. The houseboats are really cool, they’re old rice barges that have been converted into floating hotels. For £22 each we got to stay in a two bed boat entirely to ourselves with our own chef who prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner, all included in the price! It was great to relax in shorts and a vest top, I know controversial knees and shoulders out! Sailed down the backwaters for a couple of hours and then parked up and had an hour trip in a dug out canoe down the narrow canals. It’s supposed to be India’s version of Venice but I’m not so sure. Then relaxing eve having dinner and beer before having the coolest nights and best nights sleep all week.
Next day involved a 4 hour local bus journey up the mountain before meeting a taxi to take us the next 3 hours back. It sounds quite boring but sat on a rickety bus with Tamil music blaring out whilst the driver swings around hairpin bends is quite exhilarating. Half way through the journey the bus just pulls over, stops and turns the engine off, weird. Ticket inspector then says, lunch break 20 minutes!!
The taxi ride wasn’t without its excitement either. Just when you think you’ve seen it all we say what looked like the top half of a carved out temple on top of a huge cart! When we asked what it was the driver said its a coffin that the locals will pull around the town to celebrate a festival. Oh right yeah course it is.
So after the weekends excitement I was fully expecting a more normal week but that just doesn’t exist here. Even what is now the norm and everyday isn’t, there is always something that takes you by surprise or more often giggle.
Monday I think was quite a straight forward day, getting used to carrying buckets of water now. Tuesday had a real early start, had to be up at 5.30am to head to market at 6. So got up bleary eyed in the dark, got ready trying not to wake up new room mate. It gets light here at 6am pretty much on the dot and I’m learning that first thing is definitely the best part of the day, I know shock horror me appreciating the morning. So step out the door at 6am to see the sun come up. Stand there in the nice cool air and think wow what a beautiful morning. The peace didn’t last long, a tuktuk came hurtling past honking his horn which was totally unnecessary as there was no-one else around. Had to laugh to myself. There is no such thing as personal space or peace and quiet in India. So stand there waiting for other volunteers to join me and a group of local women come up and start chatting. Now I’m stood outside our room and I’m very aware that Jennifer is trying to sleep so I’m trying to talk quietly. The women however proceed to shout, what is your name, where are you from, photo photo photo. This happens almost everyday, the locals are just so interested in our lives back at home.
The market was pretty big and was full of people, cows, sheep, farming tools, fruit, veg and then our pathetic looking area where we tried to sell organic compost to local farmers on the basis that we could encourage them to sign up eco-farming. It wasn’t very successful.
Afternoon descended into chaos as we had a group of local kids come to the farm. They were really sweet and keen to learn but just didn’t quite get stuff. Our project manager translated a lot of stuff for us and the funniest part was her trying to teach them to ask politely for someones name. They started off by saying, “what is your name?” Raisa was like, “no we ask politely so we say, can I know your name please?” Kids repeat it after her a couple of times.
Then she goes ok let’s try again. “What is your name?” !!!!!!!!!
Wednesday was perhaps the strangest day of my time in India. National holiday so day off, Yippee and the staff kindly arranged for us to take a trip to the next village to see some traditional dyeing, printing etc. Text from Raisa in morning, let me know when you’re on the bus so I can inform the tuktuk driver when you’ll get there. Ok no problem. So get to local town to get local bus armed with our piece of paper with the place name written in English and Tamil. We must of asked about 4 different bus people and none of them really knew what we were on about, all we could work out was the bus was going to be another hour. So decide to jump in tuktuk. Text Raisa and say in tuktuk be in village in 20 minutes. She then calls and says can I speak to the tuktuk driver, urm yeah ok. So I tap the tuktuk driver on the shoulder and hand him my phone. I’m not sure who was the more confused me or him. Basically he was told where to drop us off. But when he drops us off the other tuktuk driver is nowhere to be seen so I give him a call. He doesn’t understand anything I’m saying so what then proceeds is phone calls between tuktuk driver, Raisa and us. We finally meet him.
He then takes us to this clothes dyeing place which I’m sure would of been interesting but he just stood there and didn’t tell us anything. The rest of the morning continues to be 4 of us getting in and out the tuktuk looking at different factories, some were good, like the one they did the printing but others were just plain strange, a metal cupboard place and what seemed like India’s answer to Ikea! Everyone in India has a mobile phone but I have never seen anyone hold the phone the wrong way round to make it work but this is exactly what the tuktuk driver did, buttons facing out rather than to his face.
We eventually got back to our village at 3 pm despite telling the driver we wanted to be back by 1230, he is clearly on India time!
Thursday was another early start 6am market and then afternoon trip to the local school which was a lot better than Tuesdays efforts. Good fun watching the kids try and act out different animals. The evening was then our weekly social event, this week trip to local town to watch the festival for Ghandi’s birthday. It certainly was a spectacle, dancing, drummers, musicians and of course really colourful. It was absolutely brilliant.
Friday was kind of a non work day. The 2 coordinators Raja and Pandi took us trekking in some local hills. It was another early start but well worth it as the scenery was spectacular. Tough climb though, very steep and pretty much scrambling up rocks. To get right to the top we had to climb up a 40m metal ladder that was stuck into the rock. It is definitely not for those who are scared of heights. It definitely got the adrenaline pumping!
6 hours later we were back down having reached the top, been in a temple where they were holding a festival and visited some caves. It was really really enjoyable. Oh and on the way down we saw hundreds of locals in the river washing, swimming and doing laundry, it was definitely one of those iconic Indian scenes.
So then it’s Friday afternoon again and time to make plans for the weekend. Decided on a shorter trip this time, just 2 hrs up to Kodaikanal one of the hill stations some 2200m up. Of course it involves a local bus which I am now becoming really used to. In fact I’ve managed to type half this while standing up holding one handed whilst going up hairpin bends!
So another action packed week and one I have thoroughly enjoyed. We were all saying that posting these blogs is really hard as so much happens in one day here it’s really difficult to describe it all. And its not so much the big things that makes your day it’s the little things like locals grinning at you on the bus, someone stopping the traffic so you can cross the road and listening to peoples stories. We met a guy who works in a local shop who was a pastry chef in new York but his dad wouldn’t allow it so he’s back working here.
Beginning to understand the daily battle here for the young people who want more freedom, more choice and the older generations who want to retain their strict traditional values. All this certainly combines to make India one of the most interesting places to live and perhaps once you accept that India is noisy and can be busy it is one of the most enjoyable places.
After a bit of a shaky start I can now say I’m really settling into village life and India and I’m sure each day/week is going to provide even more fun experiences.