First proper update

Well after nearly a month in India, I’ve finally got around to setting up some kind of online diary thing… my earlier attempts in Moradabad where thwarted because the PCs weren’t up to it but with any luck I should fare better here. This could be a fairly lengthy entry – perhaps a bit about my journey via Delhi, my time in APK and my plans for the next month or so. Here goes…

1-13 October 2004 : Delhi

Flew into Delhi via a quick stopover in Amman… two flights each of around 5 hours but not too bad. Gallantly gave up my aisle seat to a lady with a bad back on the second leg of the journey – meant I had even less legroom than usual but it’s probably the right time to start acquiring some good karma.

Laura was right about Delhi’s taxi drivers – at least those who hang around the airport. However after a slightly circuitous route I got to the YMCA without getting ripped off. The hotel was OK – nothing special and not rock bottom prices but convenient and well known (except to my taxi driver perhaps). I managed to meet up with married couple Howard and Tracy – fellow Project Visitors (PVs) – the following morning and we popped out to check out India Gate and Connaught Place. Delhi definitely has that capital city vibe about it – everyone rushing around everywhere – and there are certainly a lot of people who want to talk to you… some genuine, some not. I’d like to go back and spend a bit more time there at some point, especially to see Old Delhi – perhaps I’ll swing by later on my travels. India Gate was impressive though, although attempting to cross the 7 or 8 lane highway (nobody really seemed to know) surrounding it required skills straight out of 80s videogame classic Frogger. We also stopped of at Palikar Bazaar – I was hoping for something colourful and lively with rolls of cloth everywhere, fruit stalls and pickpocketing trained monkeys but it was exactly like Tooting Broadway Market – i.e. dodgy electricals and knockoff DVDs. Never mind – have seen plenty of proper markets since. In the afternoon we tracked down Harry (another PV) and she joined us for dinner at the Y’s glamorous buffet restaurant… well the food was included in the room rate so mustn’t grumble.

On the 13th we got up at some ludicrous hour (4am I think it was) and hopped in an auto rickshaw to Old Delhi Station. After a bit of fiddling round at the ticket office (once we found it) we all had tickets to Raja Ka Sahaspur, for the princely sum of Rs57 – about 75p. Not bad for a 5-hour trip – Virgin Trains take note! On the platform we hooked up with Becci, Roger and Sophia – more PVs. Howard commented that the way our group assembled was like the Magnificent Seven – I baggsied James Coburn but probably best not to ascribe roles to everyone… Once at our destination we met PVs Stephanie and Clara (OK, it’s Claartje really, but play fair) on the platform. The girls – from Holland – had been on the same train but in a different carriage. From the station we got a lift straight to Amarpurkashi (APK) courtesy of Rameshi, the in-house jeep driver. Getting 9 PVs (plus ridiculous number of bags) and the driver into the jeep was quite a feat but somehow we all squeezed in.

13 October – 4 November 2004 : Amarpurkashi

Upon arrival at APK we tucked into some food – thalis with dhal, veg curry, rice, fruit and chapattis. Lovely – and a selection which we would get to know very well! A quick tour of the project followed, and we were shown to our accommodation. I was sharing with a really nice guy called John, a 50-something who had visited the project a couple of times in the past – once as a PV – and who had stopped off on his way to Bihar.

I don’t want to give a daily account so I’ll try and give an idea re a ‘typical’ day at APK.

0600: Alarm clock. Cold, foggy, oh to have a lengthy lie-in, but…
0630-0730: Yoga with Pushpa (our ever-capable, ever-dependable, multi-talented Project Coordinator). Amazed at how unflexible I am – still Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that.
0730: Shower. Fill bucket with cold water from handpump, pour over self. Repeat. Shiver a bit.
0815: Breakfast. Usually a variation on porridge with bananas, crumbly biscuits and a cup or two of chai. Amazingly I am now drinking tea (after 26-odd years of steering well clear) but whether I continue the habit after India is uncertain. Quick perusal of the Hindustan Times (“36 bus passengers killed in mishap”, that kind of thing).
0930: Conversational English with students from the degree college. The class in question are studying for a Postgraduate Diploma in Rural Resource Management (PGRRM) with a view to being employed by NGOs upon graduation. Standards of English range from reasonably good to non-existent, but definitely better than my Hindi. Cricket comes up quite a lot.
1030-1300: ‘Activities’. This really varies but examples include visits to the primary school, painting educational murals on the walls, producing teaching aids and educational materials, knocking up charts and pictures for the annual Science Fair, working on a report for the research journal etc. Whilst I was at APK I produced a load of A2 charts for Kumarpal Singh (English teacher, 10th class) which featured illustrated poems – ‘The Fountain’ by James Russell Lowell (not bad) and ‘The Mountain and the Squirrel’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson (absolute drivel). Look them up with Google and judge for yourselves… Becci and I also made a load of flashcards for teaching English – a picture of an apple for ‘A’, a ball for ‘B’ etc and lots of individual words for making sentences. Some of us also got involved in writing up the INTAF conference (more later).

Speaking about poems – here’s one I prepared earlier… inspired by the river outside APK village and which is not at all polluted by the bloody great paper factory nearby [ahem]

‘The River’ (with apologies to James Russell Lowell)

Beautiful river
Your fragrance so sweet
Every morning
Our senses you greet

Into the sunshine
Into the light
Seeping and oozing
From morn till night

Ever in motion
First straight and then wavy
Your once crystal waters
Now the colour of gravy

Shrouded in wonder
Your banks are so fair
But to get any closer
Radiation suit I’d wear

Full of strange matter
My problems you’ll solve
For if I bathe in your channels
I’ll surely dissolve

Glorious river!
Let my heart be
Fresh, changeful, constant
Most unlike thee!…

Anyway. You could say “don’t give up the day job” but it’s too late.

1300: lunch.
1400 – 1600: Activities. A good time to do some work in the library as it’s nice and cool, plus the intercollege (high school) kids leave around 1500ish.1600: Hindi lesson. A teacher like Pushpa really deserves slightly better students, but we gave it a go! Howard was the class swot – Stephanie and Clara giggled at the back etc. It’s amazing how when you get in a proper classroom (blackboard, wooden desks etc) you regress about 15 years. Or more in some cases.
1700: Chai and biscuits on the terrace. Bahut atchaa!
1800-1915: Group discussion with all PVs and Mukat Singh (Project Director and all round boss-man). Topics varied from Development, Education, Indo-Pak relations, Hinduism and general gossip about life in APK.
1930: Dinner. Another thali, head cook Lalaji makes great mashed potatoes…
2000: General chitchat and walks on the terrace.
2100: Retire.
2200: Lights out (literally – the generator goes off and that’s your lot).

There’s plenty of variation on this theme – side trips to Bilari (local town), Moradabad (local big town), holidays, festivals etc. Early on we got a load of clothes made up in Bilari – us boys picked out material for kurta pyjamas (two pairs each) and the girls spent hours cooing about fabrics for salwaar kameez and the like. I should have a photo of us all in our gear so I’ll try and post it up.

Roger, Me, Becci, Stephanie, Clara, Tracy, Sophia, Howard, Harry
Roger, Me, Becci, Stephanie, Clara, Tracy, Sophia, Howard, Harry

31/10 and 1/11 saw the INTAF (International Taskforce for the Rural Poor) India Prepatory Committee Assembly, hosted at APK. INTAF attempts to get global recognition from political institutions for those who work for and with the rural poor, and the purpose of the PrepCom was to formulate the Indian response on the topic ‘Investing in the Rural Poor’ to be discussed at the international conference held next year in London. Harry, Becci and Howard produced a press release and some of us drafted the ‘Amarpurkashi Declaration’ at the end of the first day. Watching the discussions at first hand was a very interesting experience, although most of the proceedings were conducted in Hindi… the evening was enlivened by some live music, and a succession of delegates took the stage to sing songs, tell stories etc – fantastic.

On 3rd November, the annual Science Fair took place. Basically it’s an expo for the schools and intercollege – every class comes up with some kind of stall / exhibit and it really was great. Lots of dressing up, plays, songs and even some science tucked in there… I’ve got loads of great pictures so will try and get them up on Yahoo or something before too long.On the 4th it was time to move on to pastures new. The rest of the PVs were moving on (the Dutch girls had nicked off a couple of days early to pack in a busy tourist schedule, and Tracy had to leave after two weeks because of work commitments), either to return to the UK (Howard) or continue travels (everyone else). Personally speaking, I really enjoyed APK and it was a fantastic experience. Even so, we’d bonded so well as a group I didn’t fancy sticking around once everybody else was heading off… fortunately there are several other projects I’m planning on visiting (in Pune, Bodhgaya and Orissa) but these are a long way apart (and a fair way from APK) so I thought I’d make my way via a few tourist destinations… that’s my story anyway.

So here I am in Agra – I got an overnight train from Chandausi (near APK) and spent Friday checking out Agra Fort, the tomb at Itimadu’D-Daula and a few other sights. Then yesterday I visited the Taj Mahal. It’s amazing – undoubtedly one of the wonders of the world and certainly the most impressive building I’ve ever seen. Whisper it quietly, but it even trumps the Brighton Pavilion. I spent most of the day there, enjoying the gardens and savouring the peace and tranquility – it really is a haven from the pollution and bustle of Agra outside the walls. Last night I got a great meal and even a Kingfisher so all’s well with the world!

This afternoon I’m planning on hopping on a bus to Fatephur Sikri to check out the abandoned city, and from then the plan is to head for Jaipur. With any luck I’ll catch up with Becci and Roger and Stephanie and Clara in Pushkar in a week or so – there’s the international camel fair so I’ll be on the lookout for some bargains.Technically I’ve left out loads of details but once I post a few photos it should jog my memory… watch this space for occasional updates…

You’ll be pleased to hear that thanks to a combination of the BBC World Service, text messages and the internet I’ve managed to keep up to date with Norwich City – we’re drawing more often than Rolf Harris at the moment but hopefully we’ll get there soon… keep the faith!

More next time – TTFN xx

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