The project I am working on is still going well for me; we actually have an influx of stove orders from the villages. They are selling like hot-cakes, or some sort of Indian hot-cake, maybe most closely exemplified by parathas. So this is going to be a busy week, going back to the villages and completing orders and our surveys. I am hoping that I can create my own survey and administer it in a couple weeks to look at how the stoves are being used and if the owners are actually reaping any of the proposed benefits. Hopefully the rains comply, and allow us to complete a couple days of mad work so we can retreat again back to the dry office.
“Nehi Guide, Nehi Guide” We don’t need a guide we proudly exclaimed, we had been in India for over a month and we didn’t need someone to guide us like sheep through the gardens in Ranikhet. Its not like these gardens were that extraordinary anyway, just a sidetrip to squeeze in before all of us American interns had to get back to the windy mountain road on our 3 hour bumpy car-ride back to Chirag. As we confidently walked away from the guide stand up the road to stroll through the government protected flower garden, one of the men coolly call to us and let us know that we were going the wrong way already. With our eyes pasted to the ground and our feet shuffling Charlie Brown style we slunk past the guides. Our first walk of shame.
As we made our way down the dirt path past a few houses we came to a green patch of land complete with a multicolored gazebo, algae filled water pool and about 11-12 sad looking flowers. Not the most inspiring sight I have ever seen. Id say it was a mix between the stereotypical backyard of your grandmothers home and a dilapidated park that has many of the adjacent neighbors muttering of a non-responsive public works department. Approaching the entrance, something felt a bit off. Why was this absurdly underwhelming? Why was this recommended to us? And why were there 4 not-even-teenagers-yet in tracksuits that looked like mini mobsters blocking the path into the Garden? So the 5 Americans who could at most stumble over broken Hindi stepped around the staring kids and started our sure to be disappointing stroll through the botched park. Now the kids were yelling something at us. I can make out using my preschool level of Hindi “not a garden…. go up ….. go up…. what are you doing?” Their exclamations only punctuated by their outbursts of laughter that I took for sarcasm and an attempt to mess with the clueless foreigners. So I yell back in my again foolish Hindi, “No this is it, not up, thank you though”. You would have thought I was a standup comedian with the amount of laughs that exchange garnered. Now all of us are starting to chuckle and laugh because it is one of those daily occurrences where we realize how ridiculous we must look as we meander aimlessly, with those deer in headlights eyes. But we are still confident; no one in this part of India just has a multicolored gazebo lying around in an open field with a handful of flowers. After our 2-minute trek, comparable of course to grand Himalayan adventures, we arrive at the exit followed by the continued chuckles of the kids. Interestingly enough an older man comes out of a building that coincidentally has a banner covered in flowers. It doesn’t take a genius or a fluent Hindi speaker to realize he is telling us that the real garden is up the path and that this is his land we have been strolling through. The young eyes never left us and their broad smiles never faltered as we trudged back up the dirt path. Our second walk of shame.
Walking back up the path we hear the normal tones of “Namaskar!” or for our devoted English readers “Hello!”. With our pride levels lower than the clouds that surrounded us, we stop at a previously passed house and asked directions. Without hesitation a man jumps up and responds that he would be happy to show us the way. So now we are off with our not-guide guide, and he is fascinated about our backgrounds and especially how Shobana has dark skin but does not speak Hindi. After a couple laughs I know I have to seal the deal on this new friendship, its time to bring out my secret weapon. The knockout punch is a Kumaoni song (our regional dialect of Hindi), called Beru Paco that everyone here knows right out of the womb. After a rousing rendition, and a round of compliments, we turned a corner and saw the true gardens. A hillside planted with hundreds of white, orange and purple flowers complimented by the beginnings of a large dense forest supposedly filled with leopards and other interesting critters. I am not going to pretend that I was blown away, because I wasn’t, it wasn’t awe-inspiring; it was honestly at most pretty cool. However, undoubtedly it was the journey that made it such a fulfilling sight. Welcome to India. Some days the clouds here make it impossible to see 20 feet down the road, but it’s the air filled with adventure, streets flooded in pungent flavors and a kind humorous people that makes the sometimes mundane, so beautiful.
Lastly, and on a serious note, the ferocious rains I described a week and a half ago have turned tragic. Up in more northern districts of Uttarakhand there are thousands of people stranded, temples destroyed and many dead. It is a somber situation and my thoughts are with those people disastrously affected. Hopefully the rescue efforts that are running around the clock now will be blessed with a continued break from cloudbursts. Everyone at home should know that we are safe and ok, as the mudslides and impacts in our direct vicinity have not been major.
Peace, and talk to you later.