Charcoal makers of India

The poor of rural India can’t always afford gas to cook on, and very few have electricity. Often cooking fires are fed with coconut husks or leaves, sometimes with charcoal.

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There are many thorn trees in this area which have taken over from the indigenous trees. they grow quickly and are a menace. People are allowed to cut these trees where they grow on government land. Some take them home to burn, but others use them to make charcoal, which they then sell as a fuel.

A few days are spent collecting heaps of thorn bush.

They are then piled carefully together in a mound.

The mound is covered with earth, the fire is set by lighting green branches inserted into the mound so that the wood does not burn too quickly. This produces a good quality charcoal.

With no financial outlay necessary, making charcoal can give a huge boost to a poor family’s finances.

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Wild visitor at Lakeside

wild boar at LakesideWhile walking in our area of land set aside for wildlife this morning I met a local family.

Mum, Dad and baby wild boar were happily rooting away for breakfast. Although I wondered why they would be hungry after digging up some of the plants in our gardens last night!

Unlike boar that you might find elsewhere, these are not aggressive unless they feel threatened. On seeing (even hearing or smelling!) humans, they take off into the densest vegetation they can find. I always feel privileged to see them, but do wish they would not run away and hide before I can take a photo! Thankfully I have one that I took a few years ago. This photo was taken just after the dry season and before the new growth had come through. As you can see, this animal looked hungry. The boar I saw today were much better fed!

Boar can be a bit of a pest. Once Lakeside has settled for the night and no one is around they will come in and dig up the succulent roots of plants. It is just bad luck that the tastiest roots are those of the plants in our flowerbeds and not weeds!

You may see a lone boar (males tend to be solitary) or a pair. If really lucky you could see mum and dad with a family of little ones! Young boar stay with their mother until they are adult. In some places you can see as many as 20 boar in a group, although in this valley you are more likely to see less than 10.

The wild boar is the ancestor of the domestic pig and the two species will inter-breed. So, any feral pigs you may see on rubbish heaps on the outskirts of villages could well have some boar blood.

 Boars forage mostly at dawn and dusk and into the night so you are unlikely to see them during the heat of the day. They are omnivorous and will eat anything they find – grass, nuts, berries, carrion, roots and tubers, insects and small reptiles. They are also a menace for our ground-nesting birds as they will take both the bird and the eggs.

As the boar is one of the bigger mammals in the valley they don’t have many predators. A fox or local dog may take a piglet, but only the leopard will take on a full grown boar.

Breaking the mould – brick making in India

For as long as people can remember bricks in India have been made by hand. You can often see a small brick kiln beside the road where a family will make their own mud bricks and sell to locals. The quality of such bricks is not always good as the kiln is too small.

Close to Lakeside is a much lager commercial brick factory. A visit there is always popular with our guests.

The mud is put into the mould by hand…

…then tipped out.

There are about forty families employed at the factory. Couples often work together and are paid by the number of bricks they make.

The bricks are left to dry in the sun for about one week, being turned two or three times so that they dry evenly.

Then they are taken to the kiln. This is the same shape as the amphitheatres the Romans used for their chariot races.

The sun-dried bricks are carefully stacked in sections, each of which will be sealed off for firing.

Once the section is sealed it is covered with bricks and sand. The metal ‘lids’ cover the holes where the fuel is put in.

The fuel is a combination of thorn wood and cashew nut shells. These nuts have been roasted and the kernals removed. The remaining shell is very oily, this helps to create a fierce, consistent heat which creates a good quality brick.

The chimney is an ingenious design. It is on rails so that it can be moved from section to section as they are fired.

The firing lasts for one day, then the bricks are left for a week as they cool down.

The bricks are then removed by hand…

…loaded onto lorries…

…and taken to Dindigul where they are sold. Local people can buy directly from the factory.

As with all things in India, a new machine has recently been brought in to increase production. In this case, however, it has not meant the loss of jobs. The factory still employs the same number of people but produces twice as many bricks. The machine is still very simple and is labour intensive. It is fascinating to watch.

Some of the bricks are still made by hand, but I wonder how long that will last. Regardless of how the bricks are manufactured, it is a fascinating process and our guests always enjoy their visit.

If you come to stay at Lakeside, I’ll be happy to show you around!

 

Calls to protect Dindigul’s drinkiing water

During the last year many guests have commented on a large building being erected close to the lake. ‘What is it for?’ has been the main question.

We had only be able to reply that the rumour was that it was to be a water bottling plant. The locals have been worried about this because it will deplete the water table, as well as having a huge impact on the available drinking water for Dindigul.

Well, over the last few weeks it has been revealed that it is a private water bottling plant. The current level of water in the lake is around 7 feet; at capacity it holds 23 feet. Due to this shortage local authorities can currently only provide drinking water to Dindigul every 15 days. People are up in arms that someone can make a profit from this scarce resource, and rightly so.

Complaints have been made to the Collector to stop the plant from extracting water. There are many questions being raised – does the plant have the necessary licenses and permissions? If so who granted them? No doubt it will take time to sort this out, but at least a start has been made. Let us hope that the drinking water in the lake can continue to be preserved for the people of Dindigul – and the local wildlife.

You can read what the Hindu has to say about the issue here.

The Indian flag – a guide to good politics

indian-flag
On 22 July 1947 the tricolour was approved as the Republic of India’s national flag. Over the years of the fight for independence there had been many suggestions of what the flag of India should look like. The final version incorporated ideas from many sources and was designed by Shri. Pingali Venkayya.

Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who later became India’s second President, described its significance as follows:

“Bhagwa… or the saffron colour denotes renunciation or disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work.

The white in the centre is light, the path of truth to guide our conduct.

The green shows our relation to the soil, our relation to the plant life here, on which all other life depends.

The “Ashoka Chakra” in the centre of the white is the wheel of the law of dharma. Truth or satya, dharma or virtue ought to be the controlling principle of those who work under this flag.

Again, the wheel denotes motion. There is death in stagnation. There is life in movement. India should no more resist change, it must move and go forward. The wheel represents the dynamism of a peaceful change.”

High ideals are embodied in the Indian flag, but how many people remember what it stands for? Perhaps all politicians in India should have to study the flag and pledge that they will dedicate themselves to their work, allow themselves to be guided by truth, be indifferent to material gains, protect the environment and dedicate themselves to dynamic, peaceful change.

A county with such principles not only embodied in its flag but actually living by them would be a force to be reckoned with!

Anbagam – ‘Home of Love’

Many of you know that I first came to India to visit the boy I sponsor through the Joe Homan Charity. It is a charity that I have been involved with for many years. We often get guests who stay with us at Lakeside when they visit the local projects. Earlier this year I went with some of the guests to the local DACS project in Dindigul. This an independent charity which the Joe Homan Charity makes contributions to on a regular basis. The project cares for children with HIV and AIDS.

I have been asked to write the annual report for the Joe Homan Charity regarding this project. You can find the text below. It is quite a humbling, yet uplifting, story.

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I recently visited the new home of the DACS project in Dindigul. It is a
lovely two storey building which contrasts greatly with the home I saw just
3 years ago. That itself was a huge step forward from the small house used
by Mr Thankachan in 2003 to set up his home for children with HIV and AIDS.
Back then there were 17 children, now there are almost 50. In the early
days Thankachan called it an ‘orphanage’ as fear and prejudice of HIV is
rife in India. Of course, he could not keep the purpose of his project a
complete secret, and when the local community found out about the HIV
children they were discouraged from attending the local schools, being
taught instead at the project. Over the years the Government has, to
differing degrees, supported the home and education of these children who are
once again integrated into the local schools. I’m pleased to say that the
children are doing well educationally.

JHC has been involved with this project since 2008. It is sobering to read
the report from that year which said that the children ‘cannot look forward
to more than half a dozen years of life at best’, and the number of deaths
in the early years was evidence of that. The Government provides the drugs
to treat these children, but Thankachan realised that the key to a longer
life was nutrition. His approach of ensuring that the children have a good
healthy diet has shown remarkable results, with only one or two deaths since
2010, and none since early 2013. This has, paradoxically, put more pressure
on Thankachan who wants to be able to provide a home and support for these
children for life.

The atmosphere at this project is uplifting. You receive a true welcome
from the children who are smiling and wanting to hold your hand, just like
any other child in Dindigul. But these children are different. Most have
been abandoned by their parents because of their infection, dumped on the
streets, or left beside an ATM machine. Abandoned children are taken to a
Government Hospital for assessment. The majority of children are then placed
in an orphanage with hopes for adoption, but those who are HIV positive are
sent to DACS, here they are cared for and can be assured of a loving home
for life.

DACS has come a long way from its humble beginnings, and the contributions
by JHC have played an important role in this development. This has included
supporting the daily lives of the children and much needed improvements to
their home. The latest support has been towards a new building which was
officially opened in December 2013. This has cost over £52,000 to complete,
with Thankachan raising much from local donors and family. The improvement
in living conditions here cannot be over-emphasised.

The children now have a clean, well supplied and safe environment in which
to live; they are more accepted by the local population; they can mix more
with children of their own age at the local school. Above all, their life
expectancy has improved immeasurably, as has their quality of life.
Yet we must not be complacent. In the short term DACS is still in need of
funds to improve their home and develop a small area of land into a
playground for the children. And the future? For Thankachan to continue
this excellent work he will need continued support he can rely on, and that
means an on-going commitment from JHC. For me, to see the improvements in
the health and living conditions of these children over the last three years
has been both heart-warming and humbling. As I watch children playing,
children who I had thought would not be alive today, I cannot help but
wonder about their future in a society where people with HIV and AIDS are
still feared and avoided. More and more local people are helping to support
the project in a small way, through donations or volunteering, but the
long-term future is more than they can handle. Thankachan had a dream in
2003 to provide a place where children with HIV and AIDS could live their
short lives in a home full of love. With the life-expectancy of these
children now immeasurably improved his new dream is to provide them with
higher education, work and a home through their adult years. The commitment
to funding which JHC has made just might make this possible.

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Is India neglecting its responsibilities to wildlife?

The wild elephants are still in the area, but not too close to Lakeside.

The forest rangers say that they have just come looking for food and water, but in yesterdays Hindu newspaper environmentalists say that part of the problem is the destruction of elephant habitat and ‘elephant corridors’ in the Reserve Forest, which is forcing them to change their range.

Let me just emphasise: RESERVE FOREST, set up as a protection for wildlife and a buffer zone between them and humans.  Why is human encroachment allowed? I would hate to think that people turn a blind eye for money. Or maybe there are just not enough people to enforce the law – if so there are plenty of poor local people who might be glad of such paid employment.

I do hope that this is not another case of India neglecting her wildlife for selfish reasons.

Wild elephant in Tamil Nadu

Wild elephant in Tamil Nadu

Elephants at Lakeside!

elephants at Athoor damThe drought is really taking hold.

For the first time ever, elephants have come over the Palani Hills to our valley in search of water and food. Five elephants visited over the weekend. The crowds of local people made them nervous so we kept our distance!

Today’s Hindu newspaper tells the story.

People in our area are hoping and praying for a good summer monsoon to help replenish water supplies, for ourselves and the animals. If we don’t get it we then have to wait until November.

On a positive note it has just started raining. Maybe the elephants have brought us good luck – and good rain!

 

The smallest temples in the world?

Somewhere in the jungle in the south of Karnataka are these tiny temples.

They have been here for centuries, if not millennia, used by the local tribal people as part of their animistic religion (believing that all things have a spirit or god in them and worshipping them).

I believe that there are three of these temples in all, one represents rounded hills, the second steep pointed hills and the third a squarer type of hill. The two that we saw are only around 40 – 50cm high and are within a few hundred feet of each other. The third is ‘lost’ as far as our guide knows, but the tribal people are likely to know where it is and still use it.

The small copper pot and stone-carved receptacle which you can see here are thought to be around 1,000 years old and are still used in worship. Our guide asked us not to disclose where these small temples are as the artefacts could be stolen by ‘antique hunters’ who would get a good price for them.

There is a sense of timelessness at these tiny temples, a feeling of being part of something ‘other-wordly’ and unique. People have risked the dangers of the jungle to come here; the wild elephant, leopard and tiger no deterent to their determination  to worship god in their own special way. Long may these places remain a hidden haven for the local people who see them as part of their past, present and future.

Why do Tamils paint their cows?

I’ve just been looking back over this blog and noticed the post about Pongal from 2012. If you want to know why Tamils paint their cows you will need to read this! Today is Day 1 of Pongal, so I would like to wish a happy festival to all of my friends who will be celebrating.

In the previous post I mention the beautiful green rice fields after the monsoon. Sadly, there is less rice in the fields this year after a poor monsoon so everyone is hoping that this year things will get back to normal.

Happy Pongal!