So it’s been a while since I updated this, sorry about that… Onwards!
So the weekend before last Abi and Sarah, two EWB-UK volunteers working in that place that no one can pronounce correctly (Pabal) and who I flew out to India with – came back to Pune for the a day or two. We decided to do some touristy stuff around Pune.
First we went to visit Kelkar Museum. Getting there was a bit of a challenge, as none of the rickshaw drivers seemed to know what we were talking about and we weren’t quite sure what road it was on (not that it would have helped). I’ve also realised that whenever I try to pronounce a word I’m unsure of here, I put inflections on every syllable of the word. This doesn’t help at all because even if I tried pronouncing the word the way I thought it was, they wouldn’t have a clue what I was saying. So saying each syllable slowly as if it were a question is just stupid.
Anyway, Kelkar Museum is a large museum over about five floors full of old artifacts from India and other parts of Asia. Everything in the museum is part of one mans collection, and not even everything is inside it! We found a giant drum in one of the exhibits and I came up with the fun idea of standing at one side pretending to hit it while someone took a photo from the other side.
Next up was the Cave Temple. This is an (unfinished?) temple just off a fairly busy street in pune. You walk into a large pit, in the middle is some kind of fountain that wasn’t on and across from that is the “cave”. Inside there was a man singing/praying, so we quietly wandered around. It is a very strange place, it’s like a large rectangular room with a small room inside with the idol of a god inside that. It’s all carved into the rock with pillars all around the room in a kind of grid. There was no noise apart from the singing man. It was very interesting, but I can’t help feel like I’m offending someone walking around their temple gawking at everything!
We also went to see a bollywood film, we were hoping to catch an action film (Singham) in a more traditional cinema where everyone whistles and screams at the movie. But that didn’t happen, we were too late. So we found a film called Phhir, which is a bollywood film… set in Newcastle. It was really funny to see how England was shown in the movie. Apparently police drive at 200mph through the countryside, and show up at old castles wielding guns and sneaking around the outside walls. During the very serious scene with the police racing to a barn in the countryside to try catch a killer, they played some really upbeat cheerful bollywood music – which was great. It was a really terrible film, I think if I had understood what they were saying I wouldn’t of enjoyed it. But all the sillyness of the bollywood style made it hilarious (for us, and most of the people in the cinema).
On the Sunday the three of us headed to Pabal, Monday was Independence day and I was invited to Abi and Sarah’s schools fun day. So to get to Pabal we had to take the bus, and buses here are
terrifying brilliant. The bus out of Pune to the bus station with a completely unpronounceable name was fairly uneventful. I was sitting next to an old man who kept nearly falling asleep, then jolting awake when he was about an inch from falling over onto me. The bus from the strange bus station to Pabal was a bit more interesting. We had to wait there for a while, and got to witness some “extreme bagsy’s”. When buses show up a massive crowd appears and rushes to the door. You really have to fight to get on a bus here. To try secure a seat people pass bags through the windows to the people who are coming off the bus, or just through them in. Literally bagsy-ing seats. We saw an extreme case of this, when a man put his toddler through the window, follow by his slightly older daughter. It backfired on him though, turned out to be the wrong bus and he had to pull them back out.
Eventually our bus arrived. We were quite near the door, but some how within a second, a huge crowd had jumped in front of me (Very similar to the megabus at buchanan street actually). Me thinking, “ach theres loads of seats it’ll be fine” was fairly relaxed about the situation. Instead of pushing old women out of the way and punching guys in the face I let people get on the bus. Abi and Sarah got on straight away and got seats at the front, clearly they are brutal. Anyway it seemed to work, when I got on there were loads of seats… but wait, they ALL HAD BAGS AND CHILDREN ON THEM. So I ended up standing at the back of the bus for the half hour ride to Pabal. Which really is a terrifying journey. The bus gets thrown about all over the place and the driver is insane. We all thought the bus was ready to tip over a few times, and you’d be thrown up and down constantly.
We got to Pabal safely in the end though. Pabal is a very small town/village an hour or two from Pune. There isn’t much there, but it is home to one of the Vigyan Ashram schools. The school takes students who have usually dropped out or failed normal schools, they come to Vigyan Ashram for a year and live on the school grounds. There are 4 departments and they spend three months in each class/department. The place is quite interesting, they have a lot of different projects around the grounds. There are farm animals like goats, chickens and cows that are looked after by the students and provide milk/eggs for the school meals. There are areas where they grow crops, and they are currently planting fruit trees. There is a little section full of solar stuff, like solar dryers and a very large dish that concentrates the rays through a window in a little building which is used for cooking. If you stand in the concentrated light it’s like standing in an oven! This is the monsoon too, I don’t think I’d try it when there are no clouds around. There are other things like biodiesel generators, strange tunnels, worms and fish…
We arrived fairly late in the day so I got a tour of the school grounds and got to meet some people. I was here for independence day the next day so some of the students showed me the parade ground and tried to teach me how to do the marching. I was pretty bad, and may have offended one of them with my terrible marching. They were all really cool though and kept asking me questions about what I do.
Before dinner they have meditation. Which involves about 20 minutes of sitting in silence, and doing some meditation. I didn’t have a clue how this worked though, and my leg got pins and needles about 5 minutes in – so I had to just sit still and hope my leg didn’t fall off or something. After this there is a kind of life lesson giving to the students by the woman who was married to the man who founded Vigyan Ashram, and seems to be in charge of things at the school. The life lesson is a sentence which all of the students have to consider and then say it aloud but in a different way, to show their understanding. After this there was a lot of singing, the students took leading the singing, which would be repeated a line at a time by the rest. Finally there was another 5 minutes or so of meditation, but this time there was humming. It was quite creepy but strangely relaxing.
After meditation is dinner time, which is about half 9 in the evening! The rules around eating here are quite strict. You have to eat in silence, you do not scrape your stool along the floor, you must finish everything and when you clean your plate it must be spotless. I had some trouble with the cleaning, I spent ages making my plates and cup all shiny but I was told off by one of the students for leaving soap suds on the plate! Had to start all over!
The school seems be quite strict, and well structured. All of the students have to earn around 1000rs while they are at the school, which is done by helping out around the school (planting trees for example) and this helps pay for the education. We were talking to a student who didn’t like this, but I think it’s something we could benefit from in the UK. High school students get away with everything back home, and the England riots have just proved there is a severe lack of respect amongst the younger (my!) generations. I can’t imagine anything like that happening over here.
We had an early start on Monday morning for independence day, up at 6am for breakfast. The school was having it’s parade and flag raising at 8am. Everyone was lined up around the flag, even the scabby dog who was flicking his flees onto everyone. One of the students led the march around the flag before a young boy from the primary school in Pabal raised the flag. Everyone gave a salute, and some chanting then the students sang the national anthem. It was fun to watch.
After this we were taken into the new building, which just now is just a shell so they were using it as a hall for the students performances. Over the last month or so most of the students had been preparing performances for the day, like drama, dancing or singing. This went on for a few hours, there were some very funny skits and some impressive dancing. Including one student who was doing sword dancing, the sword was wooden – but you still wouldn’t want to mess with this guy! There is a video on the right. Abi, Sarah and me finished the show with a rendition of the hokey cokey. We got everyone in a huge circle, they seemed to enjoy it. By the end the running into a middle resembled a warzone though, with everyone screaming as loud as they could before crashing into everyone at the other side!
After this there was lunch, and then the students played cricket. I unfortunatly had to head back to Pune as I had to be at the office the next day at 6am to get a lift to Sangli! I picked a horrible time to go back though. I got the bus from pabal to the bus station alright, but I got one of the last seats on the bus which was in the back corner. The back seat on this bus had hardly any leg room and the back of it was on some kind of hinge that flapped about the whole time. To make things worse the kid in front of me kept closing the window so it was roasting! After a very bumpy journey I got to the bus station.
Getting the bus to Pune was a bit more difficult. I was standing in this bus station for about 3 hours… Hence my impressive sunburn that night! Every bus that came in heading to Pune was already full, like faces squashed up against the windows full. If we were lucky the conductor would open the door and let one person on, who would jump on the stairs, half inside, half not while some kind traveller forced the door shut squeezing them all the way in.
Eventually I got talking to a guy and his sister who were around my age, and they helped me get on an alternative bus that was going to Pune, but just to the outskirts and then showed me how to get to the Pune bus station from there. They were really friendly, without them I’m not sure I would have made it back to Pune that night!
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