A change of scenery...
For the last week, we've been waking to the sound of cows mooing and dogs barking, and preparing to start work at 7:15 am. While there are countless dogs and cows roaming the streets in Barnala, this place couldn't be more different. For a great number of reasons, we decided to leave the school in Barnala earlier than planned, which has lead to us now working on an organic farm and animal recovery centre. Based in Dhanotu (a small village in the foothills of the Himalayas), our daily duties include dog walks through rice fields, planting trees, brushing cows and mules, picking up dog poo and making plant pots out of cow dung. Everything we're eating is grown here on the farm, and the chai (made with basil, mint and lemongrass) is amazing. It's great to see what can be done with so few resources, and every inch of material and space gets used and recycled. In most other areas of India, even the mountains, plastic wrappers, bottles and various other waste line the streets, so it's been really refreshing to live somewhere where nothing is wasted.
The animals who come here have differing problems and needs. Many live on the streets and get into trouble with other animals or get hit by cars or buses. Often, the locals are scared of them, so they resort to throwing rocks and stones at the animal. It does seem a tad strange that while cows are sacred and it's extremely frowned upon to euthanase a suffering cow or bull, irregardless of how much pain they're in, hitting them with sticks or stones is apparently acceptable.
In our last week in Barnala, we learned some Punjabi cooking, classes were put on hold for Diwali celebrations, and we went on a strange day trip involving riding the back of motorbikes and eating pizza in a suit shop with a basketball player who works as a train conductor. Leading up to Diwali, all the students in school were giving passionate speeches on microphones asking fellow scholars not to burn 'crackers' (fireworks) this Diwali, especially not ones made in China, in an attempt to stop damaging the environment. Perhaps unsurpringsly, these same students didn't exactly practise what they preached and would leave school to go with their families and buy as many crackers as their wallets would allow. Nevertheless, with everyone preparing for the festival of light, spirits were high at the end of October and the fairy lights decorating the streets and shops made it feel a bit like Christmas (albeit warmer than usual).
For the main day of celebrations, we made our way to Shimla, the old summer capital. Leaving Barnala at midnight, we had a slightly confusing journey involving a missing train carriage, being locked in a toilet and sitting on a stationery train for nearly two hours just to make sure we had a seat. We were fortunate enough however, to catch the 'toy train' from Kalka to Shimla, a UNESCO railway which travels a distance of 96km, a height of 1420m and through 102 tunnels in about 6 hours. It's also just a single carriage long, seating about 30 people and stopping at various hill stations on the way up. At over 2000m high, Shimla felt pretty cold compared to Punjab, especially in a hostel with no heating. But it was a great place to see the fireworks for Diwali, with seemingly every family setting some off over the course of the evening, either in their garden or on the town streets.
It's now time to get digging again. The work here is harder on my arms and legs, but much kinder to my ears - no more shouting children (or teachers) for a while...