Friday, October 12, 2007

First Day

Meghan (the other fellow at my site) and I reached Dehra Dun on an overnight train, where we met up with Mohan, one of the founders of the APV school who assisted us on our trip up the windy path from DD to the hamlet we live in. The trip was pretty sobering, coming from the relatively clean and very modern, metropolis, and most importantly flat Delhi. Dehra Dun, for one, was pretty disgusting, dirty, congested, a really suffocating small town (which in India means probably more than three million), but once we started ascending into the mountains, things really changed. At first there were lush flatlands with what appeared to be rice patties (actually, basmatic rice is unique to this area) and tea fields, then we started zig zaging through the rolling hills, which fluxuated between the flora of what I could only describe in terms of familiarity with the evergreens of the cascades, to the dry decidious trees of southern Oregon.
But as we started to ascended even further, the views became absolutely breath taking. These Himalayas are no joke, the are the most massive mountains I have ever seen, much larger than the Olympics, Cascades, and Rockies, or at least appear that way. We were snaking through these really terrifying crumbling roads, with little protection from plummeting hundreds of feet to our death. The only thing that kept my semi sane driver from crashing were probably these fantasticly clever road signs saying, drive slow or die, life is a long journey, continue it, license to drive, not fly etc. But the views were spectacular during this portion.

Also, I notice quite a lot of landslides that were being cleaned up by crews equipped with very remedial tools like picks and small hoes, it really must take ages to get anything done. Mohan told me that these roadslides are a recent phenomena and I am sure that I am sure are because of a slew of environmental issues that I am not yet acquainted with. Also, one of the most amazing sites is when you get into the real high rural regions, there are this small townships with the liveliness of any other smaller Indian city (albeit on a much smaller scale), literally etched into the sides of these massive peaks, something I have never seen in any of the mountain systems that I have lived in. But in any case, from these observations, I learned a very obvious lesson about physical barriers to education in the rural mountainous area, which is how the lack or disregard of infrastructure plays into the lives of many students. On one hand the roads are few and far between and cannot connect the network of small villages to the schools, markets, hospital, etc. in an efficient manner. But also, In the chaotic milieu that I have described, of roadslides, lack of guard rails, the neglected roads, the craziness of my driver, and with all of the regular Indian traffic of bicycles, scooters, animals, and workers, I actually feared for the safety of these hordes of children that I saw just get out of class and were heading for their homes. I couldn't even count the times my driver almost hit a child.

Oh and I got to see the second largest dam in Asia, one of Nehru's temple of modernity. It was actually terribly depressing. The dam was constructed over a pretty sizeable city, Tehri, that had to completely relocate and become one of the aforementioned teetering mountainside towns. On the ride down to the dam, I saw many abandoned roads going into the artificial lake, roads to the homes and farms of, what I was told, 200,000 people who were displace and barely compensated. The dam itself was a concrete monstrosity, lumbering over the valley, and despite thirty years of work, is still bustling with construction, a testament to the inefficiency of the Indian bureaucracy. I have recently heard that there are something like 70 more dams planned for this area. But the funny thing is despite this massive dam in our neighboring city, where is the power? Not here obviously, there hasn't been power in my room since I have been here. The problem is the electricity goes to the cities, while the mountains and its people must endure the adverse consequences of such construction, without much of the benefits.

But I am slowly adjusting to my new lifestyle. Let me tell you that this place is REMOTE, I am about 5 km away from a market where I can get some things, but other than that there is only maybe 100 people living in our immediate area. But for now, as I type this by candle light I am listening to the Muslim call to prayer in a mosque which I cannot locate, looking at the lights of clusters of villages trickle down the slopes of these massive peaks like christmas lights on a tree, with more stars overhead than I have ever seen before. And at least for now, I have nothing to complain about.

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