10:30 PM, March 17th, 2013 – Himalaya Public School, Chaukori
The goal was simple: to make the students responsible for updating this blog. Unfortunately, as I write this, all eight Dublin School students are passed out in their respective dormitories after an impressively long day of full immersion into the Himalaya Public School’s welcoming embrace. In 33 short hours since our arrival, there has been dancing, singing, joking, hiking, lacrosse (the kids here are naturals), cricket, morning exercises, henna body art, telescope-viewing, delicious meals, tea, and an endless barrage of questioning as our students adjust to their new rock star status. Since we are leaving very early tomorrow morning for our three-day combination homestay and Himalayan trek, I feel the need to send out a quick update. We will attempt to re-establish student control of this forum upon our return to Chaukori on the 21st, at which point we will be here for five-day stretch.
When Peter left off, we were on our way back to Delhi to spend a few hours of down time before boarding our night train to Kathgodam. We arrived at Old Delhi station with less time to spare than we would have liked, which made watching the coolies fight over our gigantic pile of luggage even more stressful, since every moment counted. Fortunately, our new friend, Rajesh (sent by a friend of Jay Hardikar’s to help us out), helped to calm the frenzy. We arrived at our departure platform just in time and the group quickly split, with Nate, Molly and I in AC 2nd class, since there had only been seven tickets left in AC 1st when the reservations were made in December. Despite all of the chaos, the gentle rocking of the train seemed to help lull most of the group right to sleep.
We arrived in Kathgodam around 5:00 AM and soon began our ascent into the winding mountain roads. Against all odds, the drive that took us 12 hours last year (including numerous unplanned stops for people to ‘expel’ the demons of motion sickness) was completed this time around in a mere 7.5 hours! Some people even slept through the bulk of the ride, awaking periodically to wonder what all the hype had been about. I suspect that some liberal prophylactic use of Dramamine and some far gentler driving technique were the key ingredients to the journey’s success. Regardless of the cause, our efficiency allowed us to have lunch at the school, after some introductions with the schools administration and a brief hello with the student body.
Devbala, the school’s principle, had suggested that we have some time to rest after lunch. Having slept not a minute on the train (my berth was at the end of our train car, next to an unimaginably squeaky door), I was quick to take her up on the offer and assumed our students would follow suit. When I awoke around 4:30 PM, I went outside to discover a sea of Himalaya Public School students in the fields across from the school. The kids were scattered in dense clusters and at the center of each cluster were Dublin School students, pleasantly overwhelmed by their eager new fan clubs. They spent the afternoon playing and adjusting to their new home away from home. Before dinner we had an impromptu jam session in the school’s soon-to-be-completed music room, which offers a 360° view of the mountains through large bay windows. Overall, not one face was left without a huge smile, and throughout the evening I heard numerous references to never wanting to leave this place. Not bad for a first impression.
Today was more of the same, which is to say a richness of experiences that truly must be experienced first-hand in order to be fully understood. Our students unpacked a fleet of lacrosse sticks to share with the kids here. We learned quickly that Himalayan lacrosse involves the additional element of periodic pauses while some poor boy or girl has to run hundreds of meters down a hillside to chase down an escaping ball. I was personally excited to set up the new telescope we brought for the school. Prakash and I aimed it at the nearby village of Berinag to align the sighting scope. A large group of children quickly came running to take a peek. Some took as many as five turns in the ever-increasing line. We set it up again after dinner so they could see their first magnified view of the moon. The children obediently lined up and each took their turn in silent amazement. Their focus was particularly impressive since they had just come from a raucous game with Dublin School students in one of the classrooms. The game consisted of passing a ball around until the music stops. Whoever has the ball at that moment must then select a piece of folded paper which contains a predetermined task like singing, dancing, or walking the runway. It was interesting how the music seemed to stop quite a bit more often when a Dublin student had the ball. I am pleased to report that they were great sports about it, considering what must have been some excruciatingly nerve-wracking moments in the spotlight.
And now I too must hit the hay. As I mentioned above, we will be unable to post until later in the week, but we are looking forward to our chance to get up close and personal with the Himalayas. Stay tuned…