Adventures In India

Monday, 6 June 2016

It had dawned on me that I have never written about my India volunteer trip in partnership with The Gerry Martin Project! I had such an amazing time and it was great to experience a new country and culture! I decided to vlog the fundraising process and then each day whilst we were out in India and I also made a film for everyone who went on the trip as well!

I went with my school (I had left in June 2015, but really wanted to go, so I went with students in their last year) and there was a total of 16 people, including teachers. I was quite nervous because although I went to school with these people, I didn't really know them because they were a year younger than me. I had heard about the trip before as my friends went on it the year before (March 2014) and built a research cabin for the TGMP Program and other people carrying out research to use. When they came back, they said they had the time of their lives, so I knew that this was something I just had to do!


THE FUNDRAISING PROCESS


For the trip, we had to fundraise all of the money. I found this very difficult process as I had applied to go on the trip the year before, but my family didn't believe that I could raise all of the money in time, so they told me not to do it. This time round, I was adamant that I could do it, even if I had to do it alone, and I did. With the help of my family I hosted a quiz night at my local village hall and raised £250! From then on, I was on my own. I worked hard to raise the rest of the money, doing extra jobs and saving every penny I could to raise the funds for this trip. No one thought I could do it, but I did, and on the 14th of October 2015 I was on my way to India!

Here is a video documenting my fundraising journey!



THE TRIP - PART ONE


We set off on our journey on the 14th of October, only a few days after my 19th birthday! We had to catch two flights, the first from London to Doha, and then from Doha to Bangalore! The trip took about 16 hours overall with flights and waiting times, so everyone felt a bit groggy for our 4 hour mini bus ride to our destination once we had finally landed! During our mini bus ride, we were all able to see what the city of Bangalore was like; some of us were very shocked to see such a strange place, as on one side there would be huge buildings and developments, then on the other would be small shanty houses and towns. It definitely was a city of polar opposites. Cows, chickens and dogs were freely roaming the streets and litter and smog filled the streets. It was such a difference from what know and was very eye-opening for many of us.

Our home for the first part of our journey!
Once at our destination in the more rural part of where we were staying, we were met with beautiful scenery of palm trees and luscious green landscape! It was so lovely to be in a place so close to nature. The place where we were staying was a field station and a working farm for the organisation and had a main house where half of us stayed, whereas the other half of us stayed in wooden cabins not far from the bathrooms. We were warned about local wildlife, such as various monkeys and spiders, but we didn't encounter anything too dangerous (apart from the odd MASSIVE spider now and again!). On arrival, we were given time to have a nap and freshen up after our travels and afterwards were given breakfast! I think one of the most strangest parts for some of us of being so far out into the wilderness was that all you could hear was nature; no cars, no trains, just pure, calming nature.


On our second day filling in the trench
So, on the first day after we had our breakfast, we all got straight to work! The project was to build a bird Aviary for injured birds, a bit like a rehabilitation center. Our first task was to fill in a trench that had been dug out wrong, and although it didn't sound like much of a job, it was very tiring! We used traditional Indian equipment and techniques and everyone was completely knackered after a few hours of hard work, but we still had so much more to do! We were constantly told to keep drinking water and take short breaks from being in the heat, even though it was technically their Autumn, it was still reaching temperatures of 35°C! It took us about two days to completely fill in and compact the trench, and then we started to build the aviary.

Our beams being held in place by bamboo
whilst we wait for the cement to dry
We then dug out more holes which would house our beams to start the structure off and had to mix cement by hand in tarpaulin to place in the beam holes. Before we placed our beams in their holes, we had to paint them with a special coating to make sure that they wouldn't rust. Afterward placing them in their holes, we made sure that the beams were level and were straight by using good ole' spirit levels. We did have a few hiccups with the hole digging as they all had to be the same width and depth otherwise the height of the beams would all be uneven, so that took extra time to perfect. In total we had about 20 beams to make the beginnings of out bird aviary, and that meant digging 20 holes as well! We also had to make sure that all of the beams were cut exactly the same length and that we had enough cement to fill in all of the holes. So all of the beam-making-and-filling-in-cement-holes took about three days and then afterwards, we were onto our next task, which was to make the structure secure. We did this by attaching smaller beams in the gap between each beam. This took quite some time as we had to measure each gap between each of the beams because our hole-digging wasn't as accurate as we once thought it was!

Throughout the week when we had finished our work for the day, we would clean ourselves up and get ready for dinner. In India, most people eat food with their hands, and this proved quite challenging for some of us as there is a technique to it and definitely isn't as easy as it sounds, especially as we were eating curry most of the time! One of the groups favourite dishes was a beef noodle chow mien made by monks from a Tibetan monastery down the road from where we were staying. IT WAS DELICIOUS!

Each night after dinner we went on a night-time walk to look for local wildlife which was something I really loved! We were always told to wear a lot of bug and insect repellent because there were a lot of flies and bugs out when the sun goes down. We saw bats, huntsman spiders WHICH WERE HUGE, moths, toads and in the day time a small group of monkeys came as said hello! We were also taught about many different kinds of snakes, as our host and program creator (Gerry Martin) is a herpetologist, so we handled and learnt a lot about many different types of snakes during our stay!

Me stroking and Elephant!
As our first week was coming to an end, we were surprised with a trip to go and wash elephants at a local elephant camp. Some of us were a bit unsure about going to the camp as we weren't all for Elephants being in captivity or in chains, but once we were there the carers told us that these elephants cannot return to the wild due to many different reasons, but are kept and cared for at the camp where people can pay to wash them (and apparently the elephants love that). I don't like seeing any animal in captivity, but I have to admit, it was a magical experience being so close to such a beautiful animal! I can only hope that these animals are treated with the best care and love whilst they are at the camp.

The little elephant that sprayed me with water!
I was so excited and eager to capture the moment that I completely forgot to wash the elephant and was filming the whole thing and taking pictures on my camera! Luckily I was with the group, so the elephant certainly did not go unwashed! One of the elephants had a baby with her, and as I was taking pictures of the baby, he decided to squirt me with water! Luckily my camera was fine, but I think the little one enjoyed spraying me as he started to wag his tail; and just like a dog this means they're happy! It was such a lovely experience, but some of us did have reservations about ever doing it again as all of the elephants had chains around them, which wasn't nice to see! We had to get a boat trip to where the elephants were kept and the scenery along the way was lovely; we saw mangrove tree's, which for me was very special because I've only ever see them on documentaries (usually with David Attenborough!) so I found it strange to see something that I was only ever used to seeing on the TV!

Our group photo! (With an appearance of Spud the dog)
After our encounter and washing of elephants, we all had a group picture! There were a few stray dogs around the camp as well, which was also heart-breaking to see. We were advised not to pet them as some of them could become aggressive and we were also told not to give them any food. As a dog lover and owner it was really difficult not to stroke any little puppies and dogs whenever we saw them! We nicknamed the dog in this group picture Spud :)



THE TRIP - PART TWO


For the second part of the trip we were based in a remote camp in the middle of a jungle in Dodamarg. It took a 13 hour overnight coach journey and a 2 hour mini bus ride down a mountain to get to our destination, but even then, the traveling wasn't finished! We then had to carry our backpacks up a mountainside through a jungle for 20 minutes in the humid, and rather hot, jungle air. Let's just say. it was insanely tiring, and the only unsettling thing was that we passed a GRAVEYARD half way up the mountain for people who have died whilst exploring the mountain. But when we reached our camp, it was all so definitely worth it and we were rewarded with this view! 


The camp was so beautiful and was right next to a river, so it was very relaxing! We had to heat some water on a fire if we wanted a shower, but in the heat of the Indian air everyone was perfectly fine with a cold shower! 

At the local Primary School
The next day we all went to a local school and were welcomed with children playing musical instruments and we were all presented with a small flower! We had to take off our shoes as it was disrespectful to wear them inside. We were then seated in front of the whole school (about 150 pupils) and our translator and travel guide Samanth started to introduce us to the school, its teachers and pupils. They sang us songs and danced for us and we sang them 'Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes' as we thought ti would be a good song for them to know and easy to pick up! Unfortunately, a few of us, including myself, became very ill whist at the School and had to be taken back to our camp in the mountains. I was really sad to have missed out the rest of the day as everyone went on to another school with pupils our age. Everyone was talking about all of the fun they had when they came back and showed the people who were ill some pictures of the day.

Henna Tattoo
Luckily then next day I was feeling a bit better! We were all going to Goa, which is a town quite famous for it's markets! Some of the girls got a Henna tattoo and we all bought scarves, sunglasses, bracelets and bags for souvenirs for our friends and family! Goa was right near a beach as well, so it was really nice to see that. As I live near the beach anyway, it felt strange to not have seen any sea for a long time, so it reminded me a little of home. Whilst in Goa, everyone had a go at bartering, as there is no set price for items and shop owners are keen to get a sale in wherever they can, but customers also want to get a good price. I felt quite rude at first, as you have to be quite stern but confident with what you are saying, but by then end of the day I was getting a few good deals!

An Indian Sloth Bear
The day afterwards was one of our last days with Samanth and of the trip. We were taken to an animal sanctuary, (Wildlife SOS) more of a bear sanctuary and were shown around the place and were told all about the amazing work that the people there do. They have an on site emergency care room fit for all of the animals that they care for, as most of the animals at the sanctuary are ill or cannot go back into the wild. There were a few local cats roaming about the area, and apparently the staff welcome them on site because they catch all of the rats! At the beginning of our tour of the premises, the staff showed us a short video about the Sloth Bears that they care for at the sanctuary.

The local rat catchers!
 In India, bears are frequently used for performing, and this video showed us the horrible, yet eye opening detail, what these bears go through when in captivity as performing bears; it made all of us cry, it was horrible! The staff then went on to tell us that through their organisation, and a few others, that in 2009 they rescued, to what they believe, the last dancing/performing bear in India; they have saved all of the dancing bears and have rehabilitated them! It really was wonderful seeing all of the hard work that the people at Wildlife SOS India has done; they also help rehabilitate and rescue circus elephants and other animals in illegal captivity! This is definitely a charity/organisation that I will be supporting for many, many years to come, and I hope you guys will too!

After the sanctuary tour, we headed back to a hotel to await out flight the next day. Everyone was so sad to be leaving; I know I was! It felt strange being in a city and a hotel after spending two weeks out in the jungle and farmland, but it did feel very nice to use a shower again, even though the cold showers in the jungle were SO NICE!

This trip has taught me so much, and now I have a passion to travel and to help! I don't think this is going to be the last volunteer trip that I go on; I would love to do something with marine conservation, as I believe the sea is an amazingly diverse eco-system, and many of its inhabitants are being threatened.

I hope you all have enjoyed this post! Hopefully I can go on another trip soon!

Love, K :)

THE INDIA GROUP :)

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