Thursday, October 2, 2008

Laxman Jhula Divine Mega-Clean Up

Last Sunday we had a very successful public clean up event. We called it the Laxman Jhula Divine Mega-Clean Up Day. Our local reporter on the site (also the author of 99.9% of this blog) Ms. C Telfer, did a write up to submit to the English press here in India. The title is a response to the fact that there is a certain way of thinking where people

 here feel it is fine to throw plastic into the Ganges or generaly polute the local environment because "Ganga will take care of it.." or "God will take care of it.."  Hmm..:

Giving God a Helping Hand

Are you worried about how the Ganga is being desecrated and the environment destroyed by the unrestricted disposal of all kinds of waste direct into i

ts waters? Would you like to be part of the solution? Do you think it’s time to do something about this situation? Well, you are not alone.

As part of the global campaign ‘Clean up the World’, Clean Himalaya, a Rishikesh-based solid waste management NGO, organised their ‘Divine Mega Clean Up Day’ last Sunday.

The garbage on the banks of the Ganga in the Rishikesh area has reached crisis point. Not only does this disfigure this holy and beautiful place, but is a cause of pollution and disease. This has largely been caused by thoughtless and unrestricted dumping of household and business waste in the streets or directly down the slopes of the nearest ravine in thereby directly into the water.

Clean Himalaya addressed the practical issue of garbage removal on Sunday, from both the banks of the Ganga and the streets in the Laksmanjhula area. But more importantly, their main aim was to involve the local citizens and fire their enthusiasm to help protect and maintain the sanctity of their own area by keeping it clean. A variety of people took part - all volunteers. From the rafting companies who donated staff and rafts to clean sites that were inaccessible by any means other than from the Ganga itself, to the school children who gave up their free time to clear the beaches and streets. It was impossible not to be inspired.

Many people expressed their delight and support of the Clean Himalaya ‘Divine Mega Clean Up Day’ and also their regular waste management programme. Several companies did this in practical terms by signing up on the spot for Clean Himalaya’s daily garbage collections.

Clean Himalaya’s goals are to continue to expand its operation in the Ganga and Himalaya region, to develop public awareness of the importance of protecting the sacred environment and to provide an example of working together to serve the unity of all life and its future. No one is suggesting that one ‘Mega Clean Up Day’ will solve this huge problem, but in Rishikesh, at least it is a start. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Feels Like I Have Never Been Away....(Or, Only in India!)

I flew back to Delhi on 17 September - nearly 2 months to the day after returning to London. It was as if I had never been away from India!

Marc met me at the airport and we spent the day fairly quietly in Delhi, catching up and passing time before catching the sleeper train back to Rishikesh that night.

All the Indian quirkiness was still there - the press of the crowds on the pavements and the road, the noise, the smell, the filth... Now add to this a torrential rain storm (the monsoon should have been over 8 weeks ago...) and nightfall coming earlier and just as we were trying to get to the station. We were drenched before we found a taxi... but out of the rain and with plenty of time to catch the train (ha! We are getting the hang of this India thing... leave loads of time when travelling, everything always takes longer than you think it will...) we sat back and relaxed (well, as much as you can in an Indian taxi) while our intrepid driver headed off into the dark of storm, peering through fitfully-working wipers.

About half way to Old Delhi Station, while in a higgeldy-piggeldy queue at traffic lights, a traffic cop stopped and tapped on the taxi window. What had we done? Was he checking for road tax, insurance, MOT? As if these things exist in India!?! The roads would be a lot quieter if they did!!!! No, the cop wanted a lift - so he just hopped into the front seat and off we went! We had not gone very far on our journey when we passed one of the ramshackle public buses. The cop wound down his window and flagged down the bus. He then left us, got into the stationary bus and continued his journey home.... I was trying to imagine the same scenario happening in London - a PC stopping an already occupied black cab, joining the current occupants on their journey until he passes the 73 bendy bus to Seven Sisters. Leaning out of the window, he waves down the no. 73 between stops, leaves the cab without paying, jumps on the bus and heads home. Unbelievable!

Rishikesh has not changed either! Home is still Green Valley Cottage - but there is a new addition to the family! Marc has been looking after an abandoned puppy, named Bunti, for the last few weeks. But more of her later.

Still on the subject of 'only in India.....' . The first morning, while on the way to breakfast, there is a terrible smell with a trail of fetid water running away down the hill. A blocked drain - Yuk! Is Dynarod available? - no one needs them! Do it yourself plumbing is the order of the day!

The fun and games on the roads remain unchanged... It's disorganised chaos as a bewildering selection of rusting, delapidated cars, motor bikes, buses, tuk tuks, hand carts, tractors, lorries, bicyles all jostle to be first into a blind bend or a tiny space on the road through the town. The results can be nerve-wracking, either as a pedestrian or as a passenger and are also usually ear-splitting (an unimaginable cacophony of horns and bells accompany the revving engines). Occasionally, the results can be horrific. This is a bus, just visible through the jungle, which came off the road in the early hours of one morning this week. It ended up at the bottom of the ravine by the foot of the slope leading to the Clean Himalaya workshop.

Not suprisingly, some people were seriously injured - but we did not hear of any fatalities, thank goodness!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Belated Goodbye.... (And Wow!!!)

Back in July I said a temporary goodbye to Marc and India.... I had promised to go back to work, while Marc really wanted to stay on in Rishikesh for longer.

Most of you will know that. I think I have been in touch with most of our families and friends. We have caught up a little bit, exchanged news and I have probably produced a thick wad of photos taken on our travels for you to browse through. There would have been a glaring omission from these pictures, though.

Just before I flew out of Delhi, we spent a day visiting the Taj Mahal. After winding our way through the dusty, narrow and noisy streets of Agra, standing in separate queues (one for women and one for men), being jostled and pushed around in the sweltering heat, everyone trying to squeeze through the bottleneck of security, we emerged into the relative peace of the grounds of the Taj Mahal. It seems impossible that anything this impressive or tranquil can exist in such surroundings, but it does....

The first sight of the Taj really is one of those 'WOW!' moments. No matter how far you may have travelled or what other glorious sights you may have seen, the Taj Mahal really has an impact.

Our traditional, long distance shots are good - but don't really convey how the white marble is gleaming in the sunshine or the true majesty of the place.

The close up views shows just how much delicate and skilled work went into the construction and decoration. All different coloured stones, each individually cut and set together to produce, what is in effect, a giant mosaic.

Pictures are fine, words can paint a picture, but neither do justice to this magnificent place. If you get the chance - go there. You will never forget it!

Friday, July 11, 2008

15 Minutes of Fame.....

Marc has hit the (Indian) national press!!!! He wanted to stay incognito, thus the hat and sunglasses... Nothing to do with the heat and the sun!

Now that Bollywood has a new eco-friendly trend, Marc will be considering all offers that may come his way!!

Seriously, this article was the second one in Amr Ujjala, an Indian national daily newspaper, about Clean Himalaya this week. It is a story about the street clean up campaign which has been going on all this week. Great publicity!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More Rubbish..... (aka Street Cleaning Week)

There is a revolution going on in Rishikesh..... (No, the workers have not gone on strike again!).

Previously unheard of events are taking place and strange, never seen before items have landed by the roadside with mysterious messages written in the sky!!!!

No, the sun has not finally got to me, nor has the incessant noise driven me around the bend... The new Clean Himalaya rubbish bins have been installed on the streets with accompanying publicity banners strung above them, across the roads.

Although this may seem to be a bit of a non-event, through western eyes, it is a big help for Clean Himalaya (CH). Instead of just asking people not to throw their rubbish on the floor, there is now somewhere they can ask the public to put their bottles, cans, papers etc... Marc and I were out early this morning photographing the bins and banners. I know, I know... really exciting? No? Well, hopefully it will be useful as CH had a good write-up in a national circulation hindi language paper this week - and with any luck there will be a follow-up to that with pictures and also a further story about the CH clean-up week. More of that later... Anyway, a picture of someone using the bins was needed, but with very few people on the streets at that time, we could have been waiting around for ages to get the required photo. It was quickest to ask one of our friends from the internet cafe if they had any rubbish and did they mind being photographed putting it in the bin? No problem... but it was when our friend walked straight past the new CH bin and went to empty their rubbish on the ground behind it, that it became clear just how far outside the Indian mentality it it is to put anything in a bin. Even as far as not recognising a bin when it is right their in front of them, clearly labelled!! And if this guy didn't manage it..... Getting everyone to use the bins could be a long job!!

This is not to say that the job is impossible or that Indians are not interested.... A Dutch girl, Louise, last weekend organised a clear-up of the area immediately in front of the "German Bakery", a popular western tourist hang-out. There is a good view of the Laksman Jhula bridge from the bakery which is completely spoilt by all the junk that is thrown into a small, steep ravine right by one end of the bridge. Although Clean Himalaya makes daily rubbish collections from the bakery, there is just not enough staff to clear up the streets and areas in the vicinity. Louise took matters into her own hands -organised a few of the tourists to do a clear up and asked Clean Himalaya for help with sacks, gloves and disposing of the collected rubbish.

There were about 20 people involved, 3 of us came from Clean Himalaya to help out and spread the Clean Himalaya word! Louise and her gang slithered down into the steep, muddy ravine and spent an hour and a half clearing it of all the foul gunge down there. The attention it created was amazing! Crowds gathered, jostling to get a glimpse of what was going on, cameras flashed, jaws dropped when it was realised what the bunch of westerners were doing! It certainly made a difference to the view from the bakery and hopefully made all the people that witnessed the clean up, think about what was going on.

Meanwhile, back with Clean Himalaya.... To accompany the new bins and the publicity push, CH had also organised a street cleaning campaign, but spread over 5 days. The usual CH people are all taking part, Jitendra, Steve, Swami Susan, Amit, Marc and myself, plus as many other volunteers as we can get together. We are just asking people to spare an hour or two whenever they can. So far we have some very enthusiastic kids from the local school, guys from rafting and trekking companies, a lady who looks after stray dogs, swamis and many others associated with Sivananda Ashram and a few people who have been walking past, wondered what was going on and then deciding to join in!

Today (Tuesday) was the first day. Despite the current monsoon season, it was a blistering hot, sunny morning. As a result, we have now got sunburn over our tans!!! The prospect of spending the afternoon picking up rubbish out under the merciless sun was not too appealling. In the event, of course, I should not have worried about it as we had only just got stuck into the task in hand when the sky darkened and the heavens opened. The monsoon struck!

We had been out for about an hour and made a really good start on the area where I was clearing up, before the heavens opened. But after the rain stopped, there was more rubbish washed down the centre of the road than was there before we started! Thankfully, no other groups had this experience. We had all made a good start on the week-long clear up, although we all got a soaking for our trouble. Even the kids were drenched, but chattered excitedly about everything they had done while we all went for a well-earned and warming chai (Indian, sweet, milky tea).

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Worms & All That.....

Ahead of schedule and in time for the visit by the World Bank representative, the Vermi-Composting Unit has been opened.

Vermi-composting is an eco-friendly way of turning organic waste into compost. All the peelings, scraps and food waste from hotels and businesses will now be turned into cash for Clean Himalaya.

Very briefly - the organic food waste is sieved and as much moisture removed as possible. It is then piled on the floor, covered in cow dung and left to decompose on its own, with regular checking for temperature, moisture content, acidity. When the temperature of this waste is correct it, worms are added and get to work on this lovely mixture. They chomp their way through it for 25 days, eating 5 times their body weight every day! The organic waste turns to fine compost, the worms are sieved out and put to work on the next batch of yummy waste! The beauty of this process, apart from its simplicity (and I am sure I have oversimplified it here..) is that it is entirely environmentally friendly. It is an aerobic process (i.e. it uses oxygen to break down the materials) with the result that no harmful gases, like methane, are produced. The resulting compost will also be entirely beneficial for the local farmers as it has no chemicals to harm their lands.

Another friend to Clean Himalaya, Ashish, who has his own large vermi-composting unit in Dehli is the man with the know-how and drive for this project. Clean Himalaya (CH) have built a new, large, monkey-proof shed, specifically for vermi-composting, on a site he selected at the edge of the nearby forest. It is a short walk from the CH workshop, where the sorting of dry waste, is done.

Last weekend, the shed was officially inaugurated and blessed by Swamis from the Divine Life Society (DLS) and opened for business by Ashish, by setting up the first composting troughs. The shed was decorated with flowers, and petals scattered on the paths leading to the entrance. Traditional snacks of vegetable pakoras and rasmali awaited the guests after the blessings and (very short) speeches. There were guests from Clean Himalaya, DLS and a number of interested passers-by. It was a truly beautiful occasion.

It was made even more of an Indian experience, blessings, chanting and flowers notwithstanding.... The smell of the incense in the shed competed directly with the buckets of cow dung. Some of the singing and speeches were hard to hear over the honking air-horns of the passing buses and trucks, the road diggers working directly outside and the chatter of the ‘guests’ who had just popped in for the pakoras!!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Industrial Action, Rishikesh Style....

The workers were on strike for 4 days.

They really dug their heels in.... They wanted a pay rise - no strings attached. The pay rise was agreed, but in return Jitendra and the rest of the Clean Himalaya management team want to implement the new workers package of a pay rise and bonuses, but also fines for non attendance or sloppy work. The workers would just not agree, despite their wage demands being met.

At this point, the general sense seems to me is that the importance of the work they do is not very high on the workers' agenda. Yes, it is very hard work, but high profile, for Rishikesh, at least... - the workers are familiar figures in their Clean Himalaya uniforms. But there seems to be little interest in helping make the area a better place to live in or visit or any wider pollution or environmental concerns.

On the 5th day, 2 of the workers came back. Interestingly, it was the longest serving men, Chotilal and Vikas. They have also agreed to sign up for the management package of pay, bonuses and fines. In recognition of their loyalty, (and because they have more work to do...) they have been given more money than was originally asked for and a small delay before the system of fines is started for real. Call it a trial run!

By the way, one of the workers, Sonu, has gone home to his village. He does not know about the strike, but equally, Clean Himalaya has no idea when he will be back!

The other men who we had been out collecting with, Sanjay, Arun, Aswani and Surinder will not now be taken back, should they appear at the workshop wanting to rejoin Clean Himalaya. Jitendra has some temporary staff sorting the rubbish and is looking out for permanent recruits.

So, Clean Himalaya is back on track - much to the relief of the volunteers (us!). The day after we all went collecting in the monsoon downpour, we were back out again making the same collection runs. Marc and I were on foot again, on the other side of the Laksman Jhula bridge. It was a bright, sunny and most importantly, dry day. Compared with the previous day's misery - we were sorting and carrying the junk with light hearts, though it is something that we don't really want to have to do on a daily basis. Hurrah for Chotilal and Vikas!