Monday, November 23, 2009 I come!

It was an outing I didn't quite look forward to. Some of our neighbours and my family set out to this destination that was tucked somewhere up the hills. It was Saturday. I went to work as usual. By about 1.15 pm I got out of office, reached home in a jiffy with my foot on the pedal, had a hurried lunch, changed clothes, grabbed my baby and jumped into the car with my hubby. It was a long ride. We caught up with the others enroute. Had some Chai & Vada.

The journey from Vadankacherry to Nelliampathy was lovely. Lush green paddy fields on either side. The majestic mountains in the backdrop. It was indeed a visual treat for my weary eyes. The Pothundy Dam was again a ravishing sight. When we reached the foothills, there was this Forest Guard check post, where they make a note of all the vehicles entering the forest area (Yeah...we were actually going to tread the territory that belonged to the wild and the unknown). Here's where the unforeseen and the untoward occurred.

We had our cars parked one after the other and a few of us stepped out of our cars to straighten our legs. Suddenly, the tranquil setting was interrupted. We heard the kids cry out "Baba, baba...". We saw one of the cars (part of our entourage) moving in the reverse direction, slowly but gaining speed because it was a slope. The quick-on-his-feet (he had some presence of mind) Baba (father) - ran, opened the door, jumped into the seat and screeched the car to a halt. The car right behind veered to the right in the nick of time. Phew. Our hearts had skipped a couple of beats. We were all shaking our heads, in total disbelief of what had just happened and glad that we were all safe and heading again to our destined destination.

We took in the beautiful sight around us. The lake below, the hills and valleys, the greenery around, the occasional springs and waterfalls, the winding roads, the hairpin bends, the tea plantations on either side, the chirping birds...we went higher and higher up! Loved each moment of it.

I almost thought I would turn into Wordsworth and churn out a million poems at a wave of my pen...but alas, got caught up in the hectic schedules that followed at work, and just managed this measely bit of a travelogue, that I know wouldn't do full justice to my journey. Nevertheless, something's better than nothing!

At about 7 pm, we reached our Destination.
A Bungalow sitting pretty amidst the coffee and tea plantations at Rajakkad Estate, Padagiri, Nelliampathy (Palakkad District, Kerala). We ventured about the bungalow...spacious rooms, high ceilings , not a single fan but nice and cold, each of us picked our rooms and dumped bag and baggage. A bonfire was set outside, perfect for the weather. We sat around, sang, danced and played games and downed some shots to sort of warm up. Chicken Biryani followed. We then ventured out into the wild. Got to see some deer. We retired to bed.

Next morning, we were all up quite early. 5.30 am. Washed up, had some black coffee, and decided to trek up the hill. There was a stream closeby. A couple of guys pretended to fish, fishing rod and all. We walked and walked. There were some leeches that kept us worried, the bloody blood suckers! I got pricked by 4 of them, but managed to get them off my legs before the damage was done. We got to see some wild goats on our way. Plucked fresh oranges and ate them. Sugarcane too. It was a refreshing walk. The experience cannot be expressed in words. It was awesome.

When we went back to the bungalow, breakfast was served. Puri-masala. We gobbled it up (lost count actually!) and set out on our next adventure ride. On a tractor. In fact, I got to drive the mean machine (a few metres backward and forward, that's all, but was sure good enough). It was a roller-coaster ride, but fun all the same, as we were riding right into the forest, with no path - gravel nor muddy. We got to see lion-tailed monkeys and a palace in ruins.

Next on our itinerary was the organic farm. Then the view point at Seethargundu Estate. It was mind-blowing. We felt on top of the world. The sight below was fabulous. Picture perfect I must say. We got to see the mist blowing from below, wrapping the mountains. We took a deep breath. Fresh air and perhaps a fear of heights. My head was spinning, intoxicated perhaps, with all that beauty around.

Greenland Estate next. We got to see a few exotic species of birds, among them, emus, flying ducks, turkeys that let out a chorus croon (like in an orchestra) everytime we whistled etc caught our attention. There were some breeds of dogs too.

Our legs were begging for mercy now. And we were famished. Midway, on our way back to the bungalow, one of the cars had a small problem. By the time we had lunch, it was 4 pm. Time to wrap up our vacation and bid goodbye to the heavens. It was drizzling. Maybe the heavens shed a few tears, as we were leaving.

The sights were just as beautiful, top to bottom. we come!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chipak gayi*, with sweat and all!

Have you heard of the Chipko Movement? A socio-ecological movement that practiced the Gandhian method of Satyagraha and non-violent resistance through the act of hugging trees to protect them from being felled.

It was a small village in Chamoli District, Uttarakhand. The Government had restricted huge areas of forest from being cleared, so women had to walk for long hours each day to gather firewood and fodder.

The woodcutters told the women that the forest could fetch resin, timber and therefore foreign exchange. The women retorted, “Yes we are well aware of the produce that a forest can give mankind – soil, water and pure air.” They then hugged the trees and prevented it from being felled.

It was a rather sultry day. It had rained a few days back and the humidity was growing in, but the clouds weren’t heavy or black enough to rain. My daughter had her Junior Cultural Day Program at School. She was one of those Village Women – a wood collector.

She had to be dropped at School by 6.45 am for the makeover (Saree, head scarf, junk jewellery and some yellow paint on her face). The program was to start by 9.00 am. We (parents anxious to see their daughter perform) got there with the little one in my arms, at about 9.40 am. We got to see our little village woman in the balcony where all the participants were dressed up and seated along with their teachers. I could hardly recognize her (what with the yellow paint and all!).

Speeches that never seemed to end took a while. We checked the schedule and to our horror discovered that Chipko Movement (a skit by Class II – my daughter’s class) was almost towards the end. The baby in my arms was sweating profusely, she was literally stuck to me (chipak gayi).

2 kids took us through the whole show. The kindergarten kids kicked off the cultural programs followed by Class I, Class IV, Class III. 3 hours went by. A good show I must say. We were sort of glued to our seats (kursi se chipak gaye), what with the kind of sweating in that sweltering hot weather! Baby was getting jittery. We had no option but to wait for our daughter’s turn. The other parents, whose kids were done with their performances started trickling out of the auditorium. I was afraid by the time my daughter’s turn arrived, there would be nobody but us to watch. We were counting down to the show.

However, I do think it was worth the wait. A marvelous show, with beautiful stage settings, props, SFX, BGM, Village Women - my daughter being one of them, and her doting parents (that’s us!) giving her all their attention, the Police, the Woodcutters and the works, bringing the Chipko Movement to life, and sending out a very strong message “Save our environment”. We were indeed glued to our seats (ab completely chipak gaye) with the awesome performance put up by these little boys and girls.

I was all anxious to capture it all on video, my arms were begging for mercy. And then, wiping the sweat, the makeup (that refused to come off) and finally getting back home! Phew...All is well that ends well.

Chipak Gayi: Getting stuck / glued
Chipko Movement: Where the village women hugged trees to protect it from being felled