Posted on 27 November 2008
During my volunteering, I stayed almost eight weeks in Mandla, Madhya Pradesh. After waking up because of an ugly throat sound that is made by (almost) all Indian men in the early morning, I went on my bicycle to get breakfast while children were waving at me, kitschy trucks were passing me (with a lot of honking), cows were walking on the street and people were looking at the only white blonde guy in the area.
During my volunteering, I stayed almost eight weeks in Mandla, Madhya Pradesh. After waking up because of an ugly throat sound that is made by (almost) all Indian men in the early morning, I went on my bicycle to get breakfast while children were waving at me, kitschy trucks were passing me (with a lot of honking), cows were walking on the street and people were looking at the only white blonde guy in the area. When the electricity fell out at 9:00 am, I was having my breakfast. The same thing happened in the afternoon: at 2:00 pm, the electricity fell out again and I was having lunch. In the evening, electricity was available so I could see my bucket when ‘showering’ and I could see all small insects outside my mosquito net. Unfortunately, I could see the rats, reptiles and large insects (as the millipede) as well…
During my fieldwork, I went to visit two corridors: one corridor near Indri and one corridor near Mawai. But before going to the corridor, we visited Kanha National Park! It was my first safari in India so I was really excited. Driving through the park in the back of a car is not that comfortable but I forgot everything when she lay next to the car… First I couldn’t believe that I saw a real tigress at only 8 m distance! However, I couldn’t think of any other explanation. At that moment, I got an adrenaline rush that lasted for at least 45 minutes after seeing her: I had never seen such a powerful, strong and beautiful creature before! The rest of the day I really hoped to see another tiger but despite the barasingha’s, sloth bear, chital, sambar and many other species, we did not see another tiger. At the end of the day, I was amazed by the beauty of India’s nature but also aware of its vulnerability: really large surfaces are needed to preserve this nature. This made me even more motivated to work on its conservation.
The next day, the local field officer Girish Patel showed me around in the corridor near Indri. We drove on a motorbike through the area and with the tiger still fresh in mind, I saw many ‘almost tigers’ which (un)fortunately were no tigers but stones and trees. Fortunately Girish understood my fear: he stopped the motorbike to take some nice pictures of me at places where a tiger once attacked people or cattle… As you may understand, this made me a bit nervous. However, the trip was really interesting: besides the beautiful mixed forest, I saw paintings of animals on project village houses, I saw the crop protection trenches, I met local villagers and I also saw animals (jackals, monkeys and some deer) using the corridor. At the end of the day, Girish showed me around in the village of Indri. When we passed a school, the director asked us to come in. After he found out my purpose of being in Indri, he immediately called all the pupils together and demanded me to give a lecture about nature conservation. I was a little surprised but fortunately the only embarrassing part was introducing myself to the group: ‘This is ‘hair’ from the Netherlands’, which was followed by the laughing of ~400 children. The way back to the WWF Office SML was less nice with a huge backpack on the back, a small bag on the belly behind someone who is driving the motorbike with a small bag (with my laptop) on his belly during heavy rainfall and at sunset...
In Mawai, another local field officer showed me around in that area. Just going to Mawai was already an adventure: we travelled in a packed bus that broke down halfway and the engine of which was cooled with river water in an area where people never saw white skin or blonde hair... The corridor area near Mawai was totally different than the one in Indri and consisted mainly of Sal forest. Again, we drove through this corridor on a motorbike and visited project villages on the way. I was surprised by the hospitality of the people: even though they were poor they were really enthusiastic about my visit and wanted to share everything with me. I probably never ate so many omelettes on one day as during that visit. They were also very grateful to WWF, who improved their lives and their environment. I had only one problem during my visits to the corridor: I do not speak Hindi and the locals did not speak English (although the WWF field officers spoke a little English). Fortunately I met an Indian man who could speak English and he told me much about the area. According to him, I was the third white guy in 25 years who visited Mawai. At that moment, I realized that I had seen only one non-Indian in the last 5 weeks.
What is impressive about India is the amount of festivals. My first festival was the Ganesha festival. During this festival, Ganesha statues are praised along the road. After a couple of days, these statues are thrown into the river because ‘Ganesha goes home’. Seeing this spectacle, as the only non-Hindu between many Indians praising Ganesha statues that are going into the river, is something I will never forget! After Ganesha, the Durga festival started. At the shrines for Ganesha, now Durga statues were placed. Also ‘Durga went home’ into the river afterwards: again a huge spectacle. When you visit India, you will surely see at least one festival because almost half of the year consists of festivals in India!
Besides the Global Youth Volunteering Programme, I also made some trips in the weekends. They all proved that India is an amazing, bizarre, crazy but also beautiful country. Standing in front of the Taj Mahal, the only word I could say was ‘wow’ (it was also my most used word in India according to the wife of my supervisor). I had never seen such a beautiful building! Together with my supervisor, I also visited the Marble Rocks in Jabalpur and the waterfall over there. Sitting in a boat on a river, surrounded with 15-meter high marble cliffs is very impressive! However, the most impressive aspect of these rocks was the silence: in India, silence is almost always lacking. Travelling through India is really nice although you should prepare yourself: the traffic is crazy, the air pollution is often high, many beggars with the most horrible deformities are asking you for money as do women with/or children and last but not least: the quality of the roads is often not that good… I still feel my back because of rushing over the roads of Madhya Pradesh: for 1.5 hours I was laying on several bags with a bag on my belly to prevent me from being launched on every bump. Despite all the chaos and pollution, I also loved to travel through the country because so many things are happening: people are cooking, people using ‘the toilet’, you see all kind of transport means, animals, playing children, several types of buildings etc. I was almost never bored!