Sunday 20 July 2014

One last festival...

Time had flown by and somehow it's my last fortnight in India!

Predictably the last wee while has been filled with festivals, functions and fun at Devnar.

 With the days left slipping away, I really appreciate being here and spending time with these amazing people. Each day I have a handful of classes, editing work and other responsibilities. Going to miss this daily routine, chaotic noise and endless energy of these amazing children.

A few breaks from the daily routine.


 The classic Indian experience. Hours of sitting in rows surrounded by sheets hug up and decorated with flowers and ribbons listening to endless speeches. I've been lucky enough to participate in multiple functions where it's often my role to keep count of and guide the kids and be the "interesting foreigner."

Most recently, the function was Founder's Day, the annual celebration of my Host and School Founder, Dr. Goud. As well as the standard sitting, speeches and gazebos there was a free health check-up for pupils from visiting doctors. 

Dr. Goud
 It was a nice celebration. Dr. Goud's achievements are astounding. Founding Devnar School and building it up from nothing is just the start. He is also an accomplished optometrist with his own practice and much more.

staff photo

Functions have surprisingly formed a significant part of my gap year. Countless hours I've spent sitting through speeches and eating free food. Now they'll no longer be part of my life, I can appreciate those opportunities to meet new people, learn new things and help the pupils to do the same. 


Another quintessential Indian experience and one which never fails to surprise and entertain.


This month is the Islamic festival of Ramzan involving fasting from dawn till dusk and feasting the rest of the time. Now, I haven't been participating in this particular festival aside from I have sampled the festival favorite, Haleem.

Old city is the best place for shoes!

Bonalu Festival

Back to Hinduism as I was awoken with a summons to the temple to celebrate the Bonalu Festival which is special in Telanagana (the state in which Hyderabad is situated).

Traditionally a meal of specially prepared rice is given at a temple to the Mother Goddess. This meal is carried on women's heads in a pot adorned with Neem leaves and smeared in Turmeric.

Dramatic processions throng the streets with colorfully costumed performers. Sadly, I missed these but here's some photos of the chaos we're all missing!

My experience of the festival was more low-key but no less bizarre. 
Padma, my Indian mother, was coating a metal pot in turmeric, stuffing it with leaves and setting the whole thing alight when one of the uncles appeared in the doorway a live chicken in each hand. These too were coated in turmeric.

Our School's Bonalu 
 The burning collection of metal, rice, spices and leaves were hoisted up onto a pupil's head.

Thus our procession began.

The motley crew made their way along the local street, winding their way around other worshipers in the crowded temple. The rice from the pot was poured out as an offering.

Now I'm counting down the days with mixed emotions. The thought of returning home to my family and friends in Scotland is a relief. After a year so far away from them I am really excited to be reunited and bore them with tales of this year. Then after a month I'll finally start University. I have a lot to look forward to! 

But... it does mean leaving India and all the amazing people here. I've learned to love with the chaos and i'll miss it! I have been so lucky to come here and participate in the work of this incredible institution.  

Thanks again for all your support in this most incredible year of my life so far. 

See you soon! 

Friday 11 July 2014

Adventure of a lifetime...

Looking back on the 53 days of my summer holidays I can hardly to believe these dazzling destinations and amazing adventures I experienced. 

Over those 53 days I traveled thousands of miles across nine states and twelve destinations. 
I was lucky enough to travel with Anna, my colleague and PT partner,  Holly, Kat and Emily, fellow PT volunteers. 

So, prepare yourself as I take you on a virtual tour of Incredible India!

Let's begin...

Pachmarhi - Madhya Pradesh 

Nestled in the razor sharp ridges of the Satpura Range is eclectic collection of hotels and souvenir shops. This is Pachmarhi a mix of tourist town, army base and police training ground. 

There area is famous for it's multiple sights of interest tumbling waterfalls and hidden temples. Suffice to say we did them justice.

Khajuraho - Madhya Pradesh 

We finally reached this notorious tourist trap after three grueling bus rides totaling over 13 hours. 

It was al worth it as we managed to visit all 24 temples which make this area famous. 

The temples are beautifully and interactively carved and have survived for millennia.

Turist to the max complete with Audio Guide! 

Varanasi - Uttar Pradesh 

Wow this place was an assault on the senses! All of life danced along the banks of the Ganges. The murky water banked by towering stone steps known as Ghats.

The Holy city is a sacred site for all Hindus many of whom aim to have their mortal remains cremated and dispersed among the other souls in the swirling waters.

We took many boat rides along the sacred water. It was a fascinating view of life. Along the riverbanks people were bathing, washing clothes, performing Pujas, playing cricket and mourning at the funeral pyres.

Make a wish 

Boat ride at sunrise

I took a couple very dynamic Hindi classes. Sadly, I have still only a basic grasp of Hindi due to lack of practice due to distraction...

More temples than you could count
 I tried Yoga for the first time overlooking the opposite shore of the Ganges. It was fun and I felt very relaxed afterwards.

Sunrise over the Ganges 

Harder than it looks as the 72 year old professional laughs at me! 

All the street animals are well fed 
 We took an Auto tour of the sightseeing highlights of the rest of the city. This included the tangle of alleys and cramped silk workshops, Buddhist temple and a map of India.

Varanasi is famous for it's silk weaving

Buddhist Site 

The chaos of the nightly Ganga - Puja worship ceremony 

Rajgir - Bihar 

A stop off point on our way to the Himalayas. In this dusty village the main mode of transport are flamboyantly decorated horse drawn carts.

The area is famous for Buddah's (like the actual Buddah) time spent here teaching.

Took a chairlift up and down the mountain

Buddah Stupa 

Darjeeling- West Bengal

We climbed the steep hill from the parched plains of Bihar to the misty Mounatin ranges of Darjeeling. The famous hill station perches along the crests of forest covered mountains. The area is a cultural melting pot due to it's proximity to the Nepalese border and a long history of  migration. There is a beautiful mix of Buddhist temples, Colonial era and candy colored modern buildings.  

The bustling main square 

Took a horse ride ended up being 14kms!

Rainbow on the ride!

We visited various local sights including the Zoo!

We took a day trip to the Makabari Tea plantation. Traveled there via the Toy train. Sadly the stunning view of the valley was obscured by the copious clouds.

Had a go a Tea-picking harder than it looks!

Delicious street food

stunning Buddhist temple

Agra -Uttar Pradesh 

From the cool mountain air to the simmering heat of Agra. Epic train journey got us there skirting the length of Nepal.

Such a contrast. The area was characteristically chaotic. Ancient buildings surrounded by a tangle of modern concrete.

Fatehpur Sikri 30 mins away from Agra

The Taj Mahal!

To forgeiners thought of India conjures images of the majestic Taj Mahal. It was a must see for me. 

There it is!

Didn't expect these stunning gates

There it is!!!!! I took that!
 Understandably the Taj quickly filled with tourists. We set off at 7am to pay the extortionate 700 Rs. (around 7 quid) to be honest for a UNESCO world Heritage site and one of the wonders of the world it seems reasonable but considering it's 250 for an Indian could help but feel a bit miffed.

It was worth it to wander around the stunning gardens and bask in the glory of the architecture.

Looks good both ways

reunited with other Project Trust volunteers

Amritsar - Punjab

The train from Agra was chronic. We were wait listed which means we booked and paid for a seat only to find not enough people had cancelled to merit it (it's complicated). Anyway it resulted in spending over 12 hours in the train corridor, some of us even sleeping in the cupboard. We were all glad to get there. 

Sums up the insanity of that train ride.
 We spent a while recovering from that traumatic traveling. The as standard we took an auto tour of the sights.
The best sight was of course the Golden Temple.

 The Golden Temple is Skihism's most famous Gurdwara.
It's stunning a turquoise pool on which the golden temple sails. surrounded by a gleaming marble walk way and surrounding buildings.
Shoes must be removed and are stored in the bustling and efficient shoe lockers. Your head must be covered inside.
Inside the chanting of the holy scriptures reverberated over the still water and wandering visitors. there was a serene atmosphere and for once I was just accepted by the crowd and not stared at.

I had lunch in the free canteen. It was the cleanest most efficent place I have even been in India. we were marched into a large dining hall, on the way handed plate, spoon and bowl, we sat on the floor. Zipping along the line doling out Daal and chapatti. It was delicious. I was so impressed with the service so donated 100 for the free meal!

Army of dishwashers

En mass prepping of vegetables

Wagah Border Ceremony 

Amritsar is close to the Pakistani border. Wagah is the only road border crossing between Pakistan and India, and lies on the Grand Trunk Road between the cities of Amritsar, Punjab, India, and Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan.
Every night   the insane procession goes on. 

I drove an auto!!!
 The contrast between the Indian an Pakistani crowds were stark. It's clear that India has a much larger and more boisterous population. In the build up to the ceremony there was flag processions, singing and a dance party broke out. The excitement and pride was palpable.

Border policeman

Mcleod Ganj - Himachal Pradesh

Back up to the Himalayas! This time there wasn't cloud cover so I could actually see the mountians.
They were stunning! Forest smothered hills and snow capped peaks.

Buddhist Temple 

Momo making class!
McLeod Ganj is the resident of the Dalai Lama in exile. There is a significant refugee Tibetan population. We all had opportuinty to learn more about this fascinating country and culture.

One of the highlights for me was volunteering at an English conversational class for adult learners. There I got to meet Buddhist monks and discuss interesting topics with them.

We sought out info on Tibet, something I had been regrettably ignorant of previously.
The situation in Tibet is an outrageous assault on Human right and the environment by forces controlled by greed.

Manali -Himachal Pradesh 

Higher up into the Himalayas lies the haven that is Old Manali.

Just look at that!

Apple Orchards

I ended up hiking for 6 hours along a beautiful Himalayan Valley to run of a steep slop. Yep, I went paragliding!


Shimla - Himachal Pradesh

The state capital of Himachal Pradesh sprawls over many mountains. The old Colonial hill station has many relics of that era.

Delhi India's Capital

Speeding down the mountainsides to the scorching city of Delhi was a shock. It was so hot.
The heat sapped us of our energy and we spent a lot of time under fans or in Aircon.

India Gate war memorial

Prime Minister's residence, welcome home Modi

Mahatma Ghandi Museum 

Craft museum 

The wonderful efficient Delhi Metro!
Sadly the group had to split up. It was great to travel with them.

Udaipur - Rajastahn 

Last stop for just Anna and I. It's a beautiful city.

puppet room at the Haveli museum

Add caption

Palace on the Lake

We enjoyed wandering the historical streets, in and out of shops and relaxing by the banks of the lake. 
We went to a cultural program and museum which included an extensive turban collection. 

took an art class

Finally the holiday was over. I had an absolutely amazing time travelling with great friends and incredible experiences. I'm so lucky to have had this chance.

Took our long distance last train ride home for 32 hours.

It was lovely to return to Devnar and catch-up with all the staff and children again.

I love India.