A Travellerspoint blog

Relaxing in Dennabandupuram

(also known as Gita’s paradise)

sunny 26 °C

We made our way from Vellore to Chitoor where Nancy, our friend from Chennai, met us. It was about 40 minutes by car from Chitoor to Deenabanduparum, and we quickly realized we were getting further out into the country that we have been before. What a glorious village this is! What a treat to be well away from all the urban noise of Chennai, Vellore, Mysore and the other big cities we’ve visited.

Bara is Gita’s (our good friend from Victoria) younger sister, and what wonderful hosts she and her husband Ajeet are! Unlike most households, Ajeet is the main cook, and he has been fattening us up with all sorts of delightful dishes. We enjoy the conversations too, as Bara, Ajeet and their friend Nareen are all social workers, very concerned about the plight of the poor and minority groups. They also know lots about the history and culture of India… and we in turn are learning lots from them.

Deenabanduparum is in the state of Andra Pradesh, not Tamil Nadu, but the borders weren’t always drawn quite correctly, and most people here are Tamil speakers. The language of Andra Pradesh is Telagu, and many here also speak that as a second or third language.

Deenabandu means “friend of the poor” – it is a name given to a Scottish missionary who did good work here in the first half of the 20th century. He was a friend of Bara and Gita’s father, who thought Deenabandu would also make a good name for the haven that he and others worked to create. (Parum simply means village.) It is a wonderful thing that Bara and her family are able to continue his work.

It feels quite different from Childhaven here. For one thing, there is far more land – about 70 acres opposed to the 5 or less acres at Childhaven. As well as farmland, there are separate hostels for girls and boys, a school for standards (or grades) 4 through 10, a church, and a few buildings where adult education takes place/ or from which outreach programs and advocacy campaigns are organized. The biggest differences are the ample space here, the several adult oriented initiatives and the fact that there are almost no young children. The only exception is Aadhi, Bara and Ajeet’s adorable 3 year old son.

Without the young children, it took a little longer for our kids to connect with the kids here… but some good variations on tag and other physical games broke the ice. Since then, our kids have spent lots of time with the students, especially the girls. Without the college students, or even any kids in 11th and 12th standards, the level of English spoken here isn’t as good as it is in Kaliyampoondi, but they are managing to communicate fairly well. Our kids have successfully introduced some string games and many circle/song and/or clapping games to the kids here… and Kaya and Nadia have been dolled up in Saris, flower garlands and make-up a couple of times over. They have also learned several games played by the kids here, and are learning a tiny bit of Tamil. Emil always does well with the other kids, managing to connect as a bit of a tease, poking or mimicking the others, who urge him on to be even more of a clown with their laughter. He’s very popular!

Internet service here is very fickle, but as with everywhere in India, there are ample cell phone towers. We were happy to be able to call my grandma on her 100th birthday! And in a way, we’ve been celebrating too, as we timed our visit here for Pongal, the Tamil New Year and Harvest Festival. It is a 4 day festival and, as we have experienced it, more a family event than a community gathering. The first day is a day for cleaning out and burning things that are no longer necessary. The second day is Pongal itself – which means overflowing abundance. For this day, milk is heated in a ceramic pot over an open fire. After it has overflowed (boiled over), rice is added and once it is cooked, jaggery (raw sugar), cardamom and ghee are stirred in. Once the pongal is soft and fragrant, portions are dished out on banana leaves, and soon devoured. The third day is devoted to cows – their old ropes are replaced with new colorful ones and their horns are filed and then painted in bright colours. We had fun watching the process. The fourth day is meant to be a day to visit relatives, and the fifth a day to see something new.

We haven’t done much “sight-seeing” this past week, but it all feels pretty new. The landscape it dotted with gentle hills – we’ve hiked to the top of the closest one. (That’s a lie - it’s impossible to hike! Even in winter it is far too hot to move faster than a gentle stroll.) It’s also been wonderful to have access to bicycles again – we’ve done a few very pleasant sauntering circle routes through nearby villages and back. When Kaya and I went off together, we couldn’t resist invitations first to eat fresh papaya in a thatched roof hut belonging to a Christian family and then to drink tea in a far more prosperous Muslim household. We were also invited to help plant out rice seedlings and we’re a little sorry we didn’t go for it. I was a little feverish (again!) and felt I shouldn’t stand/sit in the paddy water… and besides we hadn’t brought a camera so knew we wouldn’t be able to record the momentous experience.

Between these lines, I’m sure you can read that we continue to meet amazing friendliness. Where people look stone faced (as they sometimes do), my goal is always to try to tease or charm a smile out of them and I usually succeed. Sometimes even out here in the boonies, we’ve been met by begging, but I often choose to misunderstand it. I suppose the presence of Deenabandhupuram has made some people feel dependent on hand-outs… or wish that they could be.

Helping others is always a fine balance, and Bara struggles to find the right balance. She also has the challenge of trying to keep funding agencies satisfied and, at the same time, find ways to actually meet the needs of the people (which aren’t always the same as the projects that can be funded.) I think she and her family do a very commendable job.

Posted by MogenStoft 02:41 Archived in India Tagged volunteer Comments (1)

A Short Visit to Vellore

sunny 25 °C

We needed a break en route to Deenabandu from Kaliyampoondi, so we stopped in Vellore, on the border between the states of Tamil Nadu and Andra Pradesh. It is an old fort town – we saw the very impressive granite walls of the fort from the outside only. The town has relatively recent military significance in that it was here that Muslims, Hindus and Christians all banded together against the British.

Instead of visiting the fort, the girls stayed in our room to relax (they were under the weather with colds picked up in Kaliyampoondi), Emil and I decided to visit the Golden Temple that several people had told us about and Christian went bird-watching.

Our temple visit quickly became problematic. We had read that in some temples, men must wear long pants, no shirts and no shoes. SO far, we have removed our chapels (or sandals) at every temple, but this was the first one where they insisted Emil cover his legs. The option was not expensive, for just over $1 we could easily purchase a longi (a circular piece of fabric that men tie around their waists as a skirt) BUT try as several people might to convince him, Emil was not up for wearing one!

We waited for Christian to return… and then I went in and was very glad I did. The approach to the temple is along a covered star shaped pathway - it’s a little like walking a labyrinth – going way around the temple, sometimes seeing its golden walls, sometimes focusing on the distant mountains and sometimes on the lovely gardens that surround the walkway. Eventually the walkway leads to the central path that circumnavigates a circular pool of deep green water surrounding the relatively small temple. Beautiful chandeliers sparkled in the sunlight, and the gold leaf walls were spectacular. I didn’t go all the way into the temple for the Puja (prayer) that I had donated a small amount of money in order to receive. I hadn’t paid because I wanted Puja (I don’t always feel comfortable receiving it) but it was the only way of getting into the temple relatively quickly. The alternate route in is through a huge dining hall that serves free meals to the needy before they enter the temple grounds.

There were thousands of visitors to the temple during our few hours there – people here really do love their temples, and many go on annual pilgrimages, visiting as many temples as possible during a 40 day period. The Golden Temple is run by a society that also runs a huge hospital – one of several in Vellore. Apparently, the town is full of patients from around the world. I imagine they pull in a lot of funds for the hospital through all the temple visitors.

Posted by MogenStoft 02:40 Archived in India Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Happy to be Back at Childhaven Kaliyampoondi

semi-overcast 24 °C

It is lovely to be back – the children are so affectionate and the adults so very kind. The only problem with returning here is that now the children are expecting us again/hoping we’ll show up next month and the month after too!

We helped 60 or more children make about 200 “god’s eyes” (wool wrapped around a pair of criss-crossed sticks). It was intense! But once we began to work as a team of 5, things went more smoothly: Emil and I measured and cut the yarn, Kaya kept kids in line, Nadia showed the kids how to make them and Christian helped the kids finish them off. Without being very firm about staying in line, the kids get too excited to do anything but push and grab. It’s not so surprising –we find that most adults don’t have a real concept of queuing up or waiting their turn – unless yelled at by someone else, or pushed aside. We’ve become a little pushier ourselves as we’ve learned we might, for example, not get a seat on the bus or a ticket to get into popular sights like Mysore Palace if we don’t.

Christian’s birthday wish was to visit Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary. We filled a van as full as we could - the girls stayed back to let some of the Child Haven kids have an outing… and then, when they saw our photos, they regretted it a little. There were literally thousands of painted storks, ibises, herons, pelicans and other exotic birds. Even worse for them were the images of us swinging on the aerial roots of the banyan trees. On the other hand, they had fun hanging out with kids at the home. They taught a couple of them Sudoku (oh no! Not another addict!)

At various times we all enjoyed cycle trips out from Child Haven – it’s such a nice way to see the countryside… and you can veer around the bumps! Christian and I cycled into the nearest big town of Utramerur where every third building along the main street seems to be a temple: old ones, new ones, ancient ones. This part of Tamil Nadu is especially famous for its many temples, especially the larger town of Kanchipuram which Nadia visited last time we were here.

We were amazed by all the work that has gone on since our last visit to Child Haven. Two new buildings are nearly complete! There’s a six room guest house (which will eventually be used for old folks) and a 4 or 6 cubicle washroom. The current guest house (which is also the library) will soon become a room for some of the boys, who are very overcrowded in their current quarters. The girls could also use a lot more space and it would be especially nice if they could have some ground floor space as they are currently on the second floor and because of that, they spend a great deal of time inside (whereas the boys study on the front porch and in the courtyard). It would be wonderful if there were funds enough to build a whole new dorm building. Though there are other wishes as well, such as a concrete cover for the well to help keep the water cleaner.

The children each have a single lock box, about 90 cm long by 40 wide by 30 deep where they store all their worldly belongings. They sleep on straw mats on the floor, with a single cotton blanket for these “cold” winter nights. Once they are all spread out on the floor, there is not much space to walk between them.

They each have a metal plate and cup, which they line up to fill for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (In this case, they do line up politely – I suppose because it is such a routine. First the little girls, then the little boys, followed by the older girls and lastly the older boys.) Warm, sweet, freshly made soymilk is served first thing in the morning and in the late afternoon when they return from school. Most meals consist of rice and sambar (vegetable curry). The primary and secondary schools are just 5 and 10 minute walks away, closer to and in the actual village of Kaliyampoondi.

We are very impressed by the studiousness of the children. The kids in standards 10 and 12 were especially busy as they are preparing for some state-wide exams. The stakes are high because if they do well, they could get scholarships to attend university. There are a number of college/university students who remain closely connected to Child Haven – I think many would rather not leave what is a true haven.

On the happy side, most of the children are not orphans. Rather, they are from poor or needy families and they are able to visit their families on holidays. In fact, Child Haven will be rather empty next week for Pongal, when most of the children will be at home celebrating with their families. Children who come from furthest afield, or from the poorest homes or who feel they need to study will stay at the home.

Nathan, who has managed Child Haven Kaliyampoondi for the last 24 years, is now over 80. He is gearing down and will retire in 6 months. A former student/resident of the home, truly a jack-of-all-trades, is taking his place. Bathu is a lovely young man and we think he is doing an admirable job, but he does have a challenge ahead! The almost 300 students are a lot to manage! Of course he does have the support of several mothers who are employed as ayahs (cleaning women and child care workers) and old folks who work as watchmen, groundskeepers and grandparently presences.

Returning to Child Haven was indeed a treat for us! We’re glad we made the effort to get back here. It was very nice to feel what it is like here on more “ordinary” days than the last time we were here.

Posted by MogenStoft 02:38 Archived in India Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Bedridden in Bangalore

overcast 24 °C

It was lucky we celebrated Emil’s birthday early - although it may have been some of the delectables we ate that day that caused Emil and I some stomach problems. Whatever it was, the timing wasn’t so bad – at least our lodging was very clean and comfortable, not the worst place to be stuck in bed in our room! Our good friend Gita (through both Power of Hope and the Unitarian Church in Victoria) put us in touch with her sister Preemi who lives in Bangalore. Preemi booked us into a nun’s residence with a gorgeous garden and very kind nuns.

I didn’t see much of this modern city, but according to the others, far more women were dressed in Western attire and young couples in the park didn’t seem to be as conservative in their behaviour as in Tamil Nadu. The streets seemed wider and perhaps a little cleaner, and there were more trees – evidence of more wealth in this town.

Preemi prepared a fabulous dinner with all sorts of new (to us) dishes. I was very sorry to miss it! Luckily Emil was healthy enough by then to partake in the feast.

We didn’t see many other sites, (the girls spent most of their “free time” at an internet café). On our way out of town, we did see some space age buildings: mirrored pyramids, domes and other interesting architectural structures (that we had previously seen in a film about Bangalore). It was interesting to pass through, but we are definitely not big city people (in case you didn’t already know!)

Posted by MogenStoft 02:37 Archived in India Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Mysore, another Royal Town

sunny 29 °C

And what a town it is! The palace here is beyond all imagination – the Wodeyar Maharajas were obviously extraordinarily wealthy. In 1897 the 500plus year old traditional South Indian wooden palace burnt down. No expense was spared in the rebuilding of a fireproof extravaganza in the Indo-Saracen style – with elements from South India, Moghul design and the Victorian Brits. Pretty much over-the-top, fantastical and wonderful!

There is also an amazing labyrinthine bazaar here… a very different sort of feast for the eyes. Instead of the intricate stained glass windows of the palace, burlap sacks and plastic tarps are strung overhead, presumably for shade. Each stall is full to overflowing with beautifully arranged goods: neat stacks of produce, jaggery, grains and more. Piles of coloured powders for festival use, rows of delicate crystal bottles filled with scented oils and carefully stacked incense. There are leather goods, metal goods, carved wood and much more!

Here in Mysore, we’ve also taken a bit of a plunge with our food choices. Yesterday we had freshly squeezed juices (with lots of added sugar) and today we watched as sugarcane juice seasoned with fresh lime and ginger was prepared for us. We’ll be having more of that! Our stomachs are fine, but both Christian and I are under the weather with colds… but we are doing our best to rally ourselves as we have decided to celebrate Emil’s birthday early as we’ll be traveling on his actual big day. He gets to choose our activities and restaurants today.

Posted by MogenStoft 22:43 Archived in India Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

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