Monday, June 23, 2014

Monsoon arrives

Last week went in a jiff. I am trying to recollect what happened in a week. The sunday started off with taking the kids of Nishtha for bird watching. The kids, I hope had a good time. I showed them the swallow nest and I had a lifer- Speckled Piculet. Noticeable change is the weather from past one week . Monsoon arrived and the weather is very humid. So we are getting used to a routine of bright mornings, overcast and rainy afternoon and clear evenings. I have been told that come July, it rains almost all throughout the day. But the sights of the hills and mountains are different now, with clouds playing hide and seek with the mountains and prediction of rain gets tard easy - Snow-caps not visible- Rain is arriving, Clear- Snow caps- No chance of rain for next 1-2 hours

Since the rains started, the water supplied through pipes gets murky and we started bringing water from a source from where many people in our neighborhood bring. Here is the picture of the cleaner and portable water source

Apparently the source of this water is from under the ground not a lake up in the hills as told earlier to me,  hence the water won't be murky despite of heavy rain.We boil this water and have it for drinking to be on safer side as the rains arrived. We regularly watch people go here to bring drinking water in the morning and the evenings. Kids join adults in bringing water home and they do help them in the farm too.

On Wednesday, our aunty finally announced that they are sowing seeds in their farm and I was more than happy to join them. I had my breakfast while they had their heavy breakfast and around 10 we reached the farm. By then uncle had started getting the field ready with bulls hauling the plough on the soil that was soaked with water. Here we go out to sowing

 I was expecting to sow some paddy but then they explained that they follow a different process where soaked paddy with sprouts are sprayed around. So step 1 was to clean the water filled portions of the field with a plough that has a flat and wide end. The fields were already plough-ed with the regular one, one week ahead.

Farming at Kangra valley - Himachal

As the flat-ploughing completed, we started step-2 where we jumped in and cleaned up the previous crops leftovers pulled out by the plough and we bury some of the leftovers under the mud and some we dump on the bunds that separates the portions of farm. We worked for an hour bending our backs and I got a hang of how they collect them by wading ones hands through the mud water. (reminded me of a "Pied avocet" feeding- google for it). By then dark clouds gathered and I had to take break for lunch just when it started raining.

Later in the evening, I joined them for step-3 is where we sprayed the seeds all over the place with hands. I was told that after 20-25 days, they plough the land and then align the sprouts in a linear fashion and add dung and goat, sheep droppings as natural fertilizer. The yield will be ready by December and they need to monitor the fields regularly but the major task is done.

Mid-week, we decided to cook some chicken. Since we live at one end of the village high up, so walking down and hiking up is tiring, so we decided to go to the next village further up to pick up chicken. So I ended up hiking 4 kms to get half kg of chicken. Phew never did I worked so hard to get some chicken.

Meanwhile I started taking english  classes for few students at Nishtha and it's a good experience.
Working with Nishtha also helped us understand the problems of the community. Domestic violence and alcoholism are a major problem which often resulted in single women striving to survive. Nishtha and jagori,  the two ngo's in the village work towards women empowerment, especially those of single women who were either deserted by men or those who chose to live a better life being single, away from the abuse. I have heard multiple instances of single women who deserted their husbands after surviving the violence for years and now living in dignity earning a decent livelihood in the village. They are sure an inspiration to many more. But the violence does have an impact on the young minds, especially the teenage girls who do not have a great opinion about marriage.

This week we are planning to go to Dharamkot a village further up from Mcleod ganj and stay there for couple of days. More birding and some regular tourist like sight-seeing on the cards. I am looking forward to the experiences :)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Birding - Rainbow- Farming-Doc visit

The heading pretty much sums up the last few days. I have been able to bird almost every day. Mornings starts with watering the plants at our mini farm and then off I go birding to the close-by place. I had some interesting sightings and lifers. I could not stop myself from walking higher up anticipating to see more birds.
I could see roads and I see the paths used by people and ponies ferrying goods to trek up the hills. Although little tiring the traditional routes enables you to walk further up the hills quicker. I have met herders, school going kids, workers, job goers all taking the paths and few of them inquired what I am up to. I shared my binoculars with some and explained to others about my interest in birds. Overall I never felt threatened or intimidated at any point of time. Warm people and beautiful land enabling experiences

Few days back we had a thunderstorm followed by a rainbow. At one end we could see bright sun setting and another end a storm that was about to finish it's task. The skies were beautiful with clouds and bright colors all around. I tried capturing it but felt like having a wide angle lens.

 The ladies finger seeds didn't sprout up as much as we wished to as it rained heavily the day after we planted the seeds. So this week we planted some chillies saplings. So my routine every morning and evening would be spending 30 minutes watering them gently.

Last week also made us visit the clinic run by Nishtha as our son started vomiting. He recovered in a day but still a little tender. The clinic run by Nishtha do not charge for consulting  and charges for medicines alone. It's a decent clinic in a nice building with few beds for those who needed attention.My frequency of visits to Nishtha and interaction with children increased and this weekend sangita- the nishtha volunteer and I are planning to take the children for a bird watching session.  

Monday, June 9, 2014

Environment Day-Vultures and Meadows

Here I am back with some updates. The world  environment day was a hectic day. Nishtha kids prepared a puppet show on environment theme and they planned to do that in 3 schools. I missed the first show as I went hiking up and down the road to buy some groceries.  But I managed to jon the second one in a primary school in a small village named Chakvan , some 4 kms uphill from rakkar. Two trips in the jeep on barely existing road later we started setting up the screen and props. The kids enjoyed the play and the creator of the play sangita interacted with the kids.
Past the play the kids danced danced and had their part of fun. I managed to capture little innocence here.



All smiles

We trekked down with props while the jeep went to drop the kids and 3 kids joined us till their home enroute. 

Eventually we reached rakkar and the kids had fun playing with the water from the aqueduct. 
In the evening we went to the eurokids campus near norbungla tibetan institute and this time since the kids would be late to home we adults managed the show with the recorded dialogues of the kids. We wrapped up the day with some snacks and reached home at 8-30 PM. Its a satisfying day as we went around spreading the message of garbage seggregation on the world environment day.

Back to morning hikes. Two days back along with my son we took a deroute and trekked up a small road up to a meadow and the view from the meadow was a memorable one. We finally spotted the Common cuckoo whose call we kept hearing almost every morning. It goes cuckoo-cukoo. Let the picture speak more about the place.


The long trek today means our son skipped the anganwadi school that day. He liked the school and he ate the snacks and food served there. The food they offer to kids is very good and nutritional and they asked us to send him with a empty lunchbox to pack his lunch to home. Nishtha supports many anganwadis and schools in close by villages with quality food supplies and monitor them. They carry supplies every week and deliver them to the schools. Our son was the oldest of all in the school and dispelled all my worries about him managing the show despite of language barrier. I wonder how he reacts when he grows up knowing that he once went to this small school in himachal for few months. Our landlords son too goes there. its fun watching the kids promptly came out and wave to the 10 am bus driver and the driver too acknowledged them by honking and waving. 

Few days back when I went bird watching, at around 8-30am, I saw vultures swooping down the valley. I got curious and hiked further to see what interested them. The hike made my day. I walked 500 mts through pine forest to see a big group of himalayan vultures on the ground.. running.. jumping.. some of them crossing the road. Apparently a dead cow I guess had attracted them. Mighty wings, big bills, funny walk made it an  unforgettable experience. I counted at least 15 and more flying around. Here are some pictures and video for you. I could not click better as I needed to head back and I didn't want to disturb them.'

Himalayan and Eurasian Griffon

I also got to know that as monsoon starts the locals take their cattle up hill and leave them in a meadow only to return in september to search and find them and take them back. They trek for 4-5 hrs to the meadow next to a glacier with their cattle. I asked my landlord to take me along and he mentioned that every year he takes few people with him and a newbie almost everytime. I am itching to try that.

That's it for now. Keep coming back for more

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Mela and fun

Last few days was buzzing with social life. We were invited for a lunch at didis place and we had a great time. Wifey prepared sambar for didi and maya along with some chutnies and kheer. We topped the lunch with a vanilla icecream with mangoes. Ginger loved virat and he enjoyed petting their cat

Talk of weather close to the mountains and we now have enough experiences. The weather here changes so rapildy that its not easy to predict. This time of the year wind is a constant factor and we dont need a fan. One can constantly hear the buzz of wind throughout the night and the flow of water from the aqueducts adds spice to it. A bright sunny day can suddenly change and it can start pouring while a big downpour can be followed by clear skies and beautiful views of sunlit skies and mountains.  Last sunday we are supposed to have mela in rakkar but weather gods had other plans. Hailstorm followed by consistent downpour made the mela doubtful.  But boy after 3 pm it all cleared up and the mela was on.

Spring and summer in this part of himachal are abuzz with melas in many towns and villages. This owing to the fact that people can step out of their homes due to relatively pleasant weather. So last sundays turn was rakkar. We had food stalls preparing jilebis, onion pakoras, momos,chicken, mutton, kulfis, icecreams, tikka, chat, golgappa to name a few and we have shops selling items of interest for women and kids alike.  Vegetable vendors, some fun games, joy rides for kids were all part of mela. The limelight of the evening for sure were the wrestling or kusthi matches. One can see kids from 7-8 years to young and adults participating in the matches. I tried some photography of those matches and here are some results.

Interestingly both winner and looser gets paid small amount. A guy goes around  the ring drumming all  through the while. The winner will be tickmarked  on his chest with a marker and looser will have be cross-marked. The atmosphere around was buzzing. People of all ages enjoyed watching the matches. People in fact came in cars, bikes and on foot from other places and went around the place eating and shopping. We tried some food and our kid enjoyed almost all the rides. Some smart guy sold masala dosa and our taste buds could not resist tasting them, though we ended up paying a premium price. The dosa was decent but sambar was a disaster as it was spoilt and smelled aweful. Wifey floated an idea of setting a south indian food stall in such melas and I am very much for it :)

Nishtha, the local ngo organised a puppet show with environment as theme and the kids at nishtha performed it well backed by good practise. Sangitha volunteered to train the kids. Sowjanya followed it with a shadow puppet show for kids which I had to miss as virat was ready to sleep. It was a great experience and we returned home happy and content.

Meanwhile I managed to sow bindhi seeds at small patch of 3x3 sqft plot at sulochana aunties farm. Its fun learning the process as she guided me. The part of field was filled with water for complete day. Water from the nearest stream was drawn simply by placing few boulders which naturally pushed water to the farm. Next day I dug it up a little and leveled it with hand and droppings of goat,cow  and hen  were added to it as natural manure.  Post that I pushed in small seeds into the soil with little pressure and hold on don't close them yet since you need to know where you had the seed and where you didn't.  End of it close all pits with hand leveling it again. Dont water it until you see saplings emerging. Here are some photos from the activity.  I am waiting for the seeds to spring to life.

Apart from all this we went visiting close by places with our aunt guiding us last Saturday. We took the 2 pm bus to a village named tong which lies on the Dharmashala-palampur highway.Its ride of a lifetime for me. The bus took us through some roads and some little existing roads and the views are stunning and I am already looking forward to visiting tong again. As I type this the koels started synphony at 4-30 am followed by blue whistling thrushes long whistle. Himalayan bulbuls are joining the orchestra and daybreak is beckoning.

We visited Chamunda temple, a temple for goddess Kali which offer stunning views of the snowcaps. From there, we took another bus to Yol, a small town which host an army cantonment. My wife loved the views of the mountains from this town. We did some shopping, had a good ice cream. I chanced up an very professional looking barber in that town
Post shopping, we happily opted to try the village road to Rakkar instead of taking a bus back to home. We were glad with the decision as we walked through the fields that were recently harvested for wheat. The views are amazing and viraat enjoyed the hike as we walked along the fields, on the bunds watching the dauladhar ranges as the bright sun and melting snow on top showing smoky affect.
We also joined aunty and uncle clean up the wheat they produced in their farm. Wifey was happy to try her hands in the act and virat was happy too picking up fresh wheat and chewing it away.

The house where cleaning happened was their earlier house which they rented few rooms and had one room as granary. Interestingly the guy who rented one of the room goes to the forest to pick up some resin from pine trees and I am curious to join him next time to understand what he does. Wait for my updates on that.

Our hikes are fun as I walk slow watching birds and wifey goes fast and the kid trying to run between the two. In fact walking down to buy vegetables is a mini hike  in itself but we stick together and have a leisure walk. We noticed that the vegetables here cooks much faster, easier and tastes much better than our counterparts in bangalore(altitude?). We find people warmer than ever, our neighbors now know us and last week someone retired from military and had a grand lunch party and we got a message that we "angrejis" can also join the party, however we opted not to since we would love to see a wedding or more traditional function.

Yesterday I got a chance to help nishtha prepare a poster and it's good to be back to work and volunteering. I hiked back to home for lunch and went back to continue my work. In the evening we went for another hike as I added another bird to the my rakkar bird list. We were discussing to send Virat to the local anganwadi school from tomorrow to keep him occupied. I am curious to know how he would fit in here, especially since language is a barrier for him. 

That's it for now. Keep coming back for more reading