Since 11 days I'm roaming through India, Uttarakhant just now, with Tove!
It has been an amazing journey so far. 2 days in Delhi to get the Main Bazaar overkill: too many people, too many honks, too many shops, too much rain/dust. Left north to Rishikesh. Wow, what a place.. two huge hanging bridges over the fast flowing massive Ganges, Laxman Jhula and Ram Jhula (sorry for misspelling), pilgrims in colorful raincoats everywhere and tempting stalls with necklaces, singing bowls, fabrics etc. A cosy place to stay at Mount Valley Mama Cottage where Mama made delicious Talis and Chai.In her living room the travelers gathered, meeting new people, meeting with life in India too! A hike next day to the woods near town, finding a waterfall, a cool shower in the sweaty heat. Walking back to town getting hit by a KRASS monsoon shower that soaked us thoroughly within seconds. Survived with Chai at the Cafe (and one of the many German Bakeries) overlooking Laxman Jhula.
Further to Navdanya Farm with bus and vikram. All of a sudden: SILENCE! no honks, no smells, just green colors of amounts of different plants that grow so plentiful here! Learning about all those crops, growing together: Okras, Amaranth, Sesame, lots of rice, turmeric, ginger and many more. Eating guavas all the time. Dinner bell rings promptly at 8am, 1pm and 8pm. We work with the women in the fields, mounding the gingerplants or harvesting okras for seed keeping. The seed bank here is a work of magic! More than 500 rice varieties are grown here to keep to many traditional indian varieties from dying out under corporate monocrop systems. Having just met Vandana Shiva for a few seconds before she ran off, I was still so happy having seen her at all! What a charisma this woman shines out! To be here and see all those achievements, talk to Jeet and Chandra about neem and millet varieties, about suicide farmers in India, monsanto madness and wild chickens in the nearby forest, I feel like being in the perfect place!
To make our stay a bit more exciting we spontaneously joined William (a fellow film maker and great soul!), Kumiko and Nicolo on a 2 day trip (well, not quite in the end) into the mountains, Shivalik mountain range along the ganges, Devprayag, Srivalik, Souri - the small village where Chandra grew up and lives with his wife and two kids, Tipika and Deepak. Off we went in a Jeep with a young and crazy driver who send numerous shivers down our spines, potholes AND the death-fear causing overtaking maneuvers on the snaily road that was carved into the mountains. Up to 500 or more meters deep on the right side of the jeep, and more than 2000 meters up they go on the left, those green oasis' of humid and warm mountains, some are terraced with rice patties, some are hosting amazing colorful cities, houses like lego-stones attached to the steep mountain fassade, all embraced by numerous trees and bushes, a jungle of all things green. We survived the trip well, arrived after more than 250km and 10 hours later (not the proposed 5) in the tiny village with a much slimmer yet still furious Ganges gurgling passed, so loud that it was impossible to sleep without my BELOVED earplugs! Chandras wife served food and hot chai, great to arrive there! All night rain, so heavy that the river swell even more, so heavy that the mountain came sliding down! Like avalanges the stones and mud crushed streets all over the area. We heard about school children that were swept away by an outburst of water from the sky! Scotlands rains are nothing compared to the intensity of the monsoon. Delhi has now a serious flood problem!
But we got up despite the continuous drums of water splashes, had a lovely breakfast and more sweet chai, and decided after all to hike up to some tiny villages that are now using the organic farming methods of Navdanya, selling their surplus produce to the Navdanya organization who have shops in Bombay, Delhi and other big towns all over India. We managed the slippery tiny rock-stairs, riverbeds that watered our feet, cooling wet and arrived far up with departing clouds. Rain stopped after 12 hours.
The women were curious, smiling, asking me about my piercing in sign-language, showing us their fields of intercropped varieties of millet, rice, ladyfingers and other crops. The houses were beautiful, a big central doorframe with carvings mostly in a bright red or green, a symbol of shiva or ganesha in the middle on top. Balconies that act as outdoor hallways are connected to stairs leading up and down. Succulents are growing in pots on the flat roofs. Chandra the coordinator in this area talks to the women, all of them are farmers whose husbands are working in the towns in the daytime, some are gone for weeks on end. We see beautiful old ladies with curious eyes and warm smiles. Sari's in bright colors, jewellery in gold and plastic flip flops all over the place. We then learned to make chapaties, taught by the old giggling women sitting around a woodfire in a tiny cramped stuffy room. Clapping and flapping the dough in our hands to make round flat disks that got fried in the pan. WOW! so amazing! And we did not too bad for our first trial but oh my, those hands of the woman were fast and precise in forming perfect circles of millet chapaties.
Walking around the mountains we finally saw the snowcovered Himalayas above the green peaks shining through the clouds, how high they must be! Still a while away the reach over the already 3000 meters of our village in the distance, 20 km away from the Chinese border we were.
Evening meal and another night in our little room and the terraced house, talking to Lovely, a sweet young girl who studies botany and geology in a nearby college who lives with her family next door. Every day she wore a new Salva Kameez in bright colors with amazing details woven into the fabric.
Another day arrived, time to leave! Chandra asked us to stay on but William needed to go home and the rainfall was so intense the last days, that we feared the roads will be getting worse. So we got a jeep despite knowing that we might have trouble getting through to Rishikesh. We hoped that by the time we get to Devprayag, the roads would be cleared of the rubble.
We got to Srinagar without problems, there we jumped on another bus to Rishikesh, crossed the bridge and soon found a massive traffic jam in front of us. Slowely the message triggered through that more landslides came down and the road will be closed for DAYS! We were stuck! We got off the bus who couldn't turn around there, walked a bit to finally hitch another bus back into town. William happened to sit next to a man with a blue turban (?). Few minutes later he asked us if we were alright staying at a Sikh temple for the night! Of course we were! Through the streets we marched following the santa-clause-lookalike but with a turban instead of a red hat and with a friendly smile, all the way to the temple. We covered our heads with the shawl we are now so used wearing over our shoulders all the time. Looking curiously around, being looked at even more curiously by all the Sikh-men with their turbans, beards, silver bracelets, wee swords and long robes. Oh dear. Bit weird this all felt but soon it became so normal to walk around in the temple. We shared a room with a few mattrasses with Mr. Singh and his wife, went downstairs, sitting cross legged to receive chapaties and dalh, a bit of pickle and veg curry, water and chai flowing. An amazing hospitality and an interesting new experience in my life to hear from the kind man about the Sikh traditions, their history in India, their ideals of protecting the poor from the powerful. After our splendid meal we went out to the streets once more, discovering a much less busy, less loud town, roaming in sari-shops, book shops and finally finding a decent umbrella for 75 Rupees (one pound) to prevent any further monsoon-soakings on my travels!
Back at the temple in the evening we went to the hall to listen to the praying and mostly music they played. WOOOOWWW!! I can't put in words the atmosphere of all the women and men that gathered there watching and listening to the men singing, drumming and using this strange mini-organ/harmonium-instrument. Every two or three songs the musicians changed and suddenly a wee boy appeared amongst the bearded men with their orange, blue or white turbans and he started singing in the most emotional, most clear voice every Heintje fan would dream of! I was so touched by his grace and emotion he carried in his young voice! We watched the holy book being opened, listened to prayers we couldn't understand, imitating the habits we encountered.
Sleeping peacefully in the temple, waking up at 5/6ish without a trace of tiredness, seeing clouds crouching around the morning mountains, lifting mists revealing blue sky. Relieved about the fact that it hadn't rained more, hopeful for an open road home.
Enjoying the hustle and bustle of temple morning life, women giggling, trying to talk to us with hands and feet, lots of smiles and still some staring curiosity anywhere we went. After breakfast we tried our luck, back to the main road, found a bus, hopped on, waited. And waited. And waited. chatted with the so called tourist police who again said the roads are closed. BUT our friendly Sikh-man came to look for us and found out that a detour through Pouri could work to bring us to Haridwar and from there to Dehradun. So we tried our luck finding a Jeep that would take us via Pouri through a different valley. Finally an Indian IT-youngster who also needed to get to Delhi was willing to share a jeep with us. Off we went, crossing fingers and toes and looking in awe across the mountains where so many landslides blocked roads or covered houses. I found plenty of Jatropha bushes on the way, memories of Malawi. We saw more mountain villages in their colorful lego-optic scattered over the hillsides, we saw the cruel devastation of rocks and sand that crushed down from the steep hills, covering the roads, our breath stopped several times when the tires slitted along the very edge of hundred-meter deep cliffs, honking before each curve. This time our driver drove calmly and stable, no need to fear much and by the end of this amazing sunny valley tour we reached the town that had the bus to Haridwar ready to leave! Happy we were! Home almost in sight, we thought! How wrong! The driver must have been an ill-natured maniac who besides his skills of driving curvy had the most ridiculous notions of attempting suicide with our bus. Not only did we take a detour through a bumpy dirtroad/mudpuddle of at least 1km length that nearly broke our spine and sit-bones, but also drove this bus at a speed that was absolutely terrifying! When we reached the main road again the fun wasn't over! Over-taking maneuvers were creepy! Big trucks we passed in the darkening evening light, vikrams and motorcycles we sent into ditches while racing past the TATA trucks with millimeter-precision! I was so so scared for an hour and a half. I tried not to look out of the front window and I was screaming most of the time! We did experience some crazy driving in India already but this was topnotch idiocy! Finally at 10pm we knocked on the gates of Navdanya farm, lightning around us, no rain this time, just blackness, heat and flashlights in the sky. WE WERE SO HAPPY! with last powers me and Tove enjoyed another bucket shower washing of the dirt and SMELL of 4 days traveling in the mountains with only 2 t-shirts (guys it is so hot and sweaty that two t-shirts are soaked within hours! imagine the lovely stench! haha).
Today, after having slept deeply a nice yoga-morning on our wee roofed terrace was waking us up, watching the big turmeric leafs in the breeze, the clouds over the mountains that we escaped bravely!
We did some not so tough okra-harvesting, chatted with Bindu, one of the farming-ladies, chatted more with William, the greatest American I have met so far, I should add he is from California and I know of some lovely souls from that part of the world. More inspiration floating in my humble veins and relaxation of another 4 days at Navdanya setting in! Tomorrow I want to find the herbal specialist here to chat more about Neem and its healing properties, about Moringa and other plants. I will do more yoga on the terrace, paint a few more leaves, write down more names of spices and plants and read another few pages in exciting Shantaram.
I'm so happy I came here and soon it is time to leave and learn some proper yoga lessons with Sheshadri and his son Harish in Mysore, before that a 40 hour train journey in a nice sleeper AC class will await us!
I hope to post more news from down south, Karnataka or Kerala!
Please take all best care of yourselves and please go travel and see the world! This is such an amazing adventure and was one of the best decisions I made while running crazily around a coffee machine and cinnamon buns. How far away this world is now. So normal India seems already that it is hard to believe 11 days have past.
Good luck on all your life's adventures!