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.

0

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.

Advertisements

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.

Visions Global Empowerment – empowering the youth of India

Visions Global Empowerment

We are lucky at Lakeside to meet an amazing variety of people. From former British Cabinet Ministers to families on a round the world tour, from local Indians to people from the other side of the world, from the young to the not so young!

We have recently had a second visit from a group called Visions Global Empowerment. VGE works with projects in India, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia; their vision is to help create ‘a world where all youth, teachers and communities are educated, empowered and uplifted.’ Their aim is to help achieve this by seeking to change patterns of inequality by supporting educational initiatives for youth affected by poverty, conflict, and disability.’

Greg Buie,  who has worked with this organisation since 2004, brought a group of college students from the US, Canada and Switzerland, to work on local projects in India. The Indian projects  aim to empower young people and women to better themselves. The project this group were working with is aimed at helping tribal children from the local hill areas to receive a better education, and so a better life for themselves and their families.

Please do take a look at the Visions Global Empowerment website.  It is uplifting to see young people set up such projects, and other young people spend part of their summer vacation volunteering to help those less fortunate than themselves. We are privileged to meet many such people at Lakeside.

VGE teacher training programme

VGE teacher training programme

Mahadevbhai – celebrating Indian Independence

JaiminiPathak

Jaimini Pathak in a scene from ‘Mahadevbhai’ by ‘Working Title’ on the second day of The Hindu MetroPlus Theatre Fest 2014 at PSG College of Arts and Science, Coimbatore, on Saturday. -PHOTO : K.Ananthan

India will be celebrating Independence later this week. With perfect timing I went to the theatre in Coimbatore last night to see Mahadevbhai. The play is based on the daily diaries of Mahadevbhai Desai who was secretary to Gandhi.

The monologue was performed by Jaimini Pathak, and was an amazing piece of theatre. This talented actor portrayed some of the key characters of the story of Independence – Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Dr Ambedkar and, of course, Mahadevbhai. There was also a raft of other lesser or unknown characters which fleshed out this stirring period of history. Jaimini Pathak brought the characters alive with his energetic yet sensitive performance. With the minimal set, the imagination of the audience was freed to feel a part of the story.

For me the enjoyment of the evening was two-fold. Firstly, I was held captive by a great stage performance. Jaimini Pathak received a standing ovation, and rightly so. Secondly, I learnt about a character from history who was new to me. Through his diaries, notes and records of speeches by Gandhi I gained a deeper understanding of the thoughts and principles of Gandhi in the areas of non-violence, untouchability and the rights of women during the turbulent years leading to India’s Independence.

If you ever get the chance to see a performance of Mahadevbhai make sure you don’t miss out!

You can find out more about Mahadevbhai Desai and his time with Gandhi 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.

DSCN0362

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.

DSCN0614

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!

 

Mid-life crisis to successful business!

As I said in my last post, we recently had a visit from a young man who researches tours for Kuoni, the holiday tour company. We spent a very nice two days together, and he has now featured us in this months magazine which is sent to their business contacts and tour companies. It is really exciting to get a great recommendation from such a prestigious company.

If you want to see the newsletter please click here, choose your language, then click newsletter at the bottom left and choose current issue (for the month of December 2013).

In the meantime you may like to read another of the three articles about us here. I hope it encourages you to pay us a visit!

A Story of an Expat Couple Settled in India

Peter and Dorinda in Lakeside gardens

Peter and Dorinda in Lakeside gardens

Lakeside is hidden away in a remote valley just one hour’s drive from Madurai. It is unexpected to find a guest-house here. But even more surprising in this rural location is the fact that it is run by an English couple, Peter and Dorinda Balchin. Dorinda laughed when I asked her about this. “We’re just as surprised as anyone else!” she told me. “When we stayed at Lakeside during our first visit to India in 2007, we both had good jobs in the UK and had no intentions of running our own business, certainly not in India! But when the owner told us that the property was for sale, Peter asked me if I’d like to wake up here every morning or back in the UK? It was no contest, really. We returned to England and set the wheels in motion so that, by the end of 2008, and after spending less than twenty days in India, we left our old lives behind us and found ourselves the proud owners of what has now become this beautiful resort.”

The couple have enjoyed their first five years at Lakeside, finding the experience interesting and exciting, although they readily admit that moving to India has involved a steep learning curve for them both. Everything from finding the right staff to coping with bureaucracy has involved new ways of thinking and doing things – and endless patience!

They certainly seem to have adapted well to their new life, although some things have been more difficult to adjust to than others. Take shopping, for instance. “Visiting a whole range of shops when buying groceries, instead of one supermarket, took me back to my childhood days,” says Dorinda. “Although having one person scan the goods, paying another, and then a third checking and packaging my purchases was a whole new experience.” Peter agreed. He has a background in the building trade in the UK, and is responsible for renovations and maintenance. “The choices available for the task of upgrading Lakeside were limited when we first arrived. I suppose I had been spoilt by the range of items available in England. But it’s surprising how things have changed over the last five years. Many western items, from bathroom appliances to tools, are more readily available now, and more affordable. There are supermarkets and malls opening in Madurai as well, so that the shopping experience for both of us is much closer to that in the west. And the differences are getting smaller all the time.”

Life in many western countries, including the UK, can be very stressful. The opportunity to live a more relaxed lifestyle closer to nature was one of the things which helped Peter and Dorinda to make their decision to move to Tamil Nadu. Dorinda loves the early mornings, watching the sun rise and nature come to life. It is especially enjoyable if she is riding her horse down by the lakeside, with the chance of seeing deer or wild-boar, and with the ever present birdlife for company. For Peter, the best part of the day is sitting on the veranda in the early evening, watching the sun go down over the mountains. Sipping a cold beer as he watches the goats and water buffalo make their slow way homewards is something he would never have been able to do in his previous life.

The couple obviously love the seclusion at Lakeside, but have also taken the opportunity to explore further afield. “We have visited most of the tourist sites in south India,” explains Peter. “Each place has its own attractions but, for us, one of our favourite places is the remote area of Wayanad.  Here you can have a great wildlife experience, and are more or less guaranteed to see animals from small deer to huge gaur and elephants. The really lucky also get to see leopard, and the occasional tiger.”

“We’ve enjoyed travelling here in the south,” agrees Dorinda, “but India has so much more to offer. The next places on our ‘to visit’ list are all in the north – the Taj Mahal, Rajasthan, Darjeeling. We could spend a whole life-time in India and not see it all!”

One thing people love about a stay at Lakeside is the fund of stories that the owners are able to tell of their experiences. For example, the couple brought their pet Alaskan Malamute with them when they came to India; an enormous animal affectionately known by the locals as ‘the wolf dog’. He is, sadly, no longer with them, but the story of him travelling in the back of the car with his head out of the window still raises a smile – except with the motorbike riders who were so surprised by what they saw that they fell off of their bikes! Another memorable moment was during one conversation over dinner. Peter asked the question ‘if you could invite anyone from any period of history to dinner who would it be?’ and gave the example that President Obama has said that he would invite Nelson Mandela. You can imagine the surprise around the table when one of the guests said “I have had dinner with him, and Nelson phoned Queen Elizabeth II during our meal”. As you can imagine, no one could beat that!

The guests I met at Lakeside said that they enjoyed the peace and seclusion of the property. The buildings are spread out in the landscaped gardens in a way that offers space for people to ‘do their own thing’ whilst enjoying the fantastic views. The owner’s plans for the future are to keep that unique ambience. The property needed a lot of work doing to it when they bought it, and during the last five years they have fully renovated the buildings, and built a swimming pool. But no further building is planned. “What we want to do is continue to upgrade our facilities for our guests” Peter told me. “We aren’t looking to provide ultra-luxurious accommodation, but can guarantee a warm welcome and comfortable stay. What we do want to do is provide more unique experiences and opportunities, particularly for foreign guests to experience real life in rural Tamil Nadu, which is something they don’t find on the average tour. With my ‘hands on’ skills, and Dorinda’s focus on the needs of the guests we feel we have an ideal partnership to do this.”

Peter and Dorinda have two children, and a grandson, living in England. They readily admit that it is family and friends that they miss most in their new life, and so take the opportunity to return to England once a year.  Their family and friends have also visited Lakeside, and realized that the couple’s unexpected decision to move to India was not so crazy after-all!

“The phrase ‘Incredible India’ is so true, and we’ve certainly fallen in love with life here”, Dorinda told me. “The friendly people, the fantastic food, the scenery, the amazing temples, the colours, the wildlife – the list is endless. We feel privileged to live here. And privileged to be able to share our home with like-minded people who choose to stay with us during their Indian adventures.”