A Travellerspoint blog


The home with love

View From the city to the slums on tcbcrews's travel map.

I have just arrived back, last night, from a 2 week break in Nepal, to find that two of the children at the orphanage have died since I went away. I am profoundly shocked and deeply saddened at this tragic turn of events, and find it hard to believe that these two, apparently healthy boys, could have left this world in the short time I have been absent. One of the boys, Kissan, died last week of malaria, his body too weak with fever to fight against the disease. I had not formed any significant bond with Kissan but, nonetheless, I am greatly saddened by his passing. The other boy, Subash, was my friend and a lovely boy with a sweet nature and great sense of humour. I used to take him to the swimming pool three times a week for hydrotherapy and he loved the water, happily splashing around and screaming with pleasure. He couldn’t speak but was intelligent, understood what people were saying to him and communicated with hand signals and noises. Despite suffering from cerebral palsy, he was strong and healthy and this makes his death all the more hard to comprehend. I am told he started choking in the classroom and, unable to breathe, was rushed to the first aid room to receive oxygen, however, this failed to revive him and he died of respiratory failure. A postmortem was carried out, and he was found to have been suffering from internal bleeding of the kidney, which resulted in his choking and ultimate death. The whole affair is mysterious and seems to point to maltreatment, so much so that the police have opened a murder case for investigation. Whatever transpires, I already miss him badly and Snehalaya will not seem the same to me without him here. A friend told me that he was no longer sad at Subash’s passing, as he would be reincarnated into a better life, and had no future in the life he has just left. I am not a Hindu, and don’t believe we are born again, however, I do agree that that he had no real future in this life, and only hope that the soul of this fine young man can now rest in peace wherever it may be. I have attached 2 photo's below in tribute to a handsome and charming Indian boy. The following account was written before recent events transpired and I have decided, despite the tragic deaths, not to change any of the content.
The idea and motivation behind the charity, Gwalior Children’s Hospital, comes from retired paediatrician Dr BK Sharma, who, as a former resident of the city of Gwalior, understood its poverty and the need for a hospital to treat the most deprived children. The charity was founded in 1994 and the hospital opened its doors in 1997 and, for the next ten years, was to treat over 350,000 children from Gwalior and the surrounding areas. Equipment was donated, mostly from the UK, and the hospital was to expand to include an intensive care facility, special baby care unit, women's wing and a mobile hospital that conducted regular visits to villages and slums to distribute medicines and promote rural health education. In 2004, this same mobile hospital travelled to the Southern coast of India to assist in the relief effort for the victim’s of the devastating Asian Tsunami. The hospital was funded by donations, many from the UK, staffed in the main by retired doctors and nurses, and assisted by hundred's of volunteers from around the world. Sadly, Dr Sharma’s dream came to an end in 2007 when the hospital was forced to close, apparently due to a lack of funding and poor management practice. Having spoken to Dr Sharma he related a key event that proved to be the final nail in the coffin for the hospital; a young, very sick, girl was left at the gates by her parents who clearly felt unable to care for her, and she was subsequently admitted for tests to ascertain her condition. After initial examinations were inconclusive, a blood test was carried out, and the results indicated that the girl, Radha, was HIV positive and in need of appropriate medication. Dr Sharma ensured that Radha received anti-retroviral medication, and also arranged for her to live at the hospital as she had nowhere to go and no-one would take her due to her status. As a result of this brave step, staff at the hospital, ignorant of the causes and spread of HIV, left their posts and refused to return until she had gone, leaving Dr Sharma with little choice but to close the hospital until further notice.

The closure of Gwalior Children’s Hospital saw the charity direct its funds and energies into the recently completed orphanage called Snehalaya, which in Hindi translates as ‘home with love.’ The idea for the building of an orphanage in Gwalior came about when volunteers at the hospital, after visiting children living in the state run orphanage, Mercy Home, returned with terrible tales of what they discovered. Conditions were dreadful; children were left alone lying in their own excrement, and were malnourished and uncared for. There was little stimulation and some children were chained to their beds, unable to circulate blood to their arms and legs. Staff was seldom to be seen and clearly had little interest in caring for and protecting the children under their care. The Mercy Home has a number of older boy and men residents and, being unsupervised and sharing rooms, reports of sexual abuse and even rape of minors was not unknown. Moreover, the entrance to the home is on a busy street and anyone could walk in and commit indecent acts and never be apprehended. Over the few years that volunteers were visiting, 15 children were to die from preventable illnesses, malnutrition and neglect. In the volunteers file for Mercy Home there is one testament from an English volunteer who visited the government orphanage, that ends with the chilling lines ‘keep those children alive.’ The charity decided to act and to build its own home for these children, where they could live safely, with the dignity and love they deserved. In 2006, with the building work completed, the children moved in and started their new lives in a safe and loving environment, away from the dangers and abuse they had suffered at the Mercy Home.

Snehalaya is currently home to 63, mostly mentally challenged, children who are afflicted with a range of disabilities such as cerebral palsy (CP), autism, epilepsy, as well as speech and behavioural problems. They come from a broad spectrum of backgrounds; some are true orphans for their parents have died, some have been given up by their parents who are unable to care for them, and some whose parents have simply chosen to abandon then. Their new home is situated 10 km from Gwalior, amongst rural villages and farms, and has ample space for the children to run around and play, away from the dangers of the city. The building itself is covered in murals and pictures of animals, flowers and alphabets in Hindi and English. The children live in 9 different cottages with their carers, who are often a husband and wife team with their own children. There are a number of these non-handicapped children living on site, mixing and playing with the orphans like their own brothers and sisters. The cottages are arranged by sex and age, ranging from five years to nineteen years old, and all the children help out with washing, dressing, cooking and other daily chores. Within the main building is a school that is open six days a week apart from Sundays (Indians work a 6 day week), large kitchen, physiotherapy room, multi-sensory room and vocational training centre. On the first floor is accommodation for up to 14 volunteers at a time, including a kitchen and relaxation area with well-stocked bookshelf and a television. The grounds of Snehalaya are large, with ample open space and many trees, bushes and shrubs that create a lovely natural environment. There is also a farm with a dozen cows that provide buckets of delicious fresh and creamy milk, as well as a bustling chicken hutch producing dozens of eggs. The chickens have the best possible life as they are free to range over the whole grounds and are big, strong and healthy, often with large broods of chicks following on behind.
My typical day at snehalaya begins at 7am, when I take my daily exercise class, with the children, on the front lawn. We begin with simple stretching, followed by jumping, clapping, jogging on the spot, hopping, skipping; basically anything that gets their blood pumping and increases the heart rate. When I first started these sessions, the kids would look at me incredulously, thinking ‘who is this crazy guy jumping around like a fool.’ For my part, I felt somewhat ridiculous, trying to encourage the kids to follow the moves when they would much rather stare the other way, pick their nose or wander off. Nevertheless, with some perseverance and help from a friend called Raju, we managed to engage the children and started having some fun together. The breaking point was, undoubtedly, when I introduced some yoga positions into the sequence, particularly Salabhasna, which translates as the lion pose, and involves getting down on hands and knees, throwing ones head back, and roaring like a lion. The kids loved this, all manner of strange and loud noises coming from their mouths, and lots of laughter and screaming. The next morning I followed this up with bouncing and croaking like a frog, barking like a dog and meowing like a cat (unsurprisingly not genuine yoga moves) and, from this moment on, the future of my exercise class was sealed. Attendance seemed to miraculously increase and the kids would not wander of with such frequency, on the contrary, they would be desperate for assistance with their moves. Perhaps word had got round that the white guy, who speaks poor hindi, spends each morning roaring like a lion and jumping like a frog and is a sight really not to be missed. This enthusiasm gave me renewed confidence with my class, and saw the introduction of further basic yoga moves easily practiced by children. The natural progression of yoga is to a short meditation session at the end and this proved a further success. After arranging them all into the classical lotus pose (this proved an easy task as children are incredibly flexible) they would find great amusement at my inability to sit properly like them. Once settled, the universal sound of OM rings out from the group, who have settled, meditatively, with eyes closed and spine straight. The OM comes out more like an ummmm and errrmmmm from the kids, but they genuinely seemed to love meditating, almost, as if the necessity of practicing this ancient Indian technique has been imprinted on them at birth.
From 9am to quarter past, we all come together, in the main building, for assembly. We sing three songs back to back, two religious Hindi hymns followed by the national anthem. The hymns are very melodious and uplifting and I hum or whistle the words under my breath. The national anthem is sung, every morning, in every school in India, and signifies the pride in which the people hold their country. Following assembly, I usually take a drawing class with up to a dozen children, which is very popular and usually total chaos. Like all children, they love to draw but even more they love breaking and chewing pencils, eating crayons and throwing around anything they can lay their hands on, often snatching objects from each other and, sometimes, biting and kicking. Occasionally, we manage to get some work done, perhaps a rundown of the alphabet or numbers from one to ten. These sessions only last around one hour, as I am usually exhausted and in need of a cup of tea and a sit down upstairs. Drawing class is a little hectic, but the kids seem to enjoy it and prefer it to sitting around doing nothing, which is what they seem to do in the classrooms.
Twice a day, at lunchtime and in the evening, I help to feed the cerebral palsy (CP) kids from cottage number 2. There are now 7 boys in the cottage, having recently tragically lost subash to an unexpected illness. They are a great bunch and a joy to work with as they smile and laugh, as if not having a care in the world, and always cheer me up immeasurably. CP is a brain disorder, most commonly associated with premature births, where the babies’ brain has not has sufficient time to develop inside the womb. The result is that the babies are born disabled, both physically and mentally, unable to form speech and with a host of other afflictions. In cottage number 2, all the children have some form of CP, such as severe distortions of the spine, inability to move their muscles, twisted arms and legs etc. One boy called Bittu is also autistic and Nandu and Chotu suffer from blindness and deafness respectively. They are cared for by BK and Nithu, who bathe them, feed them, change their nappies and play with them. One of the smallest boys, Chotu, has recently been hit by fever and his weight has plummeted, so I spend a significant amount of time trying to fatten him up and regain his strength, however, I sometimes think to what avail, what is his future should he recover? The reality is that these kids, so vulnerable and incapable, have been abandoned by their parents who do not wish to love them and care for them. They are unwanted and, only due to a place like Snehalaya, can they live with the dignity and respect that all human beings deserve. I find spending time with these children one of the most rewarding aspects of my work as, when they smile, it illuminates the atmosphere and invokes, in me, feelings of pleasure. They may have CP, but they refuse to let it get them down and enjoy life as fully as it is possible for them to do so, a lesson that I feel we could all benefit from.
Once a week I go with the mobile hospital out into villages to conduct rural clinics and promote health education. Up to 70% of the population of India lives in rural villages, often inaccessible, on or under the poverty line. Put into context that is not far from a billion men, women and children. Whereas in the UK the government ensures that everyone has enough money to clothe, feed and heat themselves, in India the state takes no responsibility. People living in the most deplorable of circumstances must fend for themselves and somehow scratch a living to keep themselves alive. Farming is often the principal means of making money, however, if the harvest fails this can spell disaster for entire communities. With no income, families are forced to migrate to the cities in search of work, often finding themselves living on the streets and begging for food. It is fairly common in India for farmers to commit suicide after a failed harvest as, with no food or money available, debts unpaid to merciless moneylenders, and no help from the government, they face a hopeless predicament where there appears only one way of escape. In one of the villages that we visit they own no fields, so the locals earn money by gathering bunches of sticks from the forest and selling them at the local market. The government does provide for the building of schools and health clinics, however, sadly many of these are not built as the funds never make it further than the official’s corrupt pockets. What I have learnt from these rural clinics is that life in the villages is very hard, especially for the women. They are the real driving force that keeps these societies going as they do domestic chores, bring up the children and earn money to keep rice in the families’ bowls. When I go walking in the fields and meadows around Snehalaya, I often encounter women bent over, working in the fields, with their babies strapped to their backs and husbands nowhere to be seen. The men generally do not work and spend their days idly sleeping, playing cards and drinking alcohol. It is not uncommon for a wife to work all day to earn a few rupees and for the husband to spend it all at the local drinking den in the evening. If he is refused he will often beat her until he gets what he wants. This is the sad reality for many Indian women.

Posted by tcbcrews 01:28 Archived in India Tagged volunteer Comments (0)


Trecking in the Himalaya's

35 °C

Kashmir is a land of great contrast. The striking natural beauty of its valleys and mountains contrast with the ugliness of its military, amassed at every corner, weapons polished and menacing. Throughout history war and beauty have shared a strange affinity, from the poppy fields of World War 1 to the mushroom cloud of the atomic bomb, and nowhere is this more evident than in Kashmir. As the bus winds through jaw dropping valleys and ravines, the first image i recall was a recruitment advert for the Indian army, depicting a huge rocket recoiling from its discharge and the caption 'artillery - the gods of war.'

The army is everywhere you turn, every streetcorner, outside every bank and business. As you travel the only route up to the capital Srinagar, the bus passes vast military barracks, checkpoints and snaking convoys of HGV's headed to restock the north with supplies. The military presence is equally enthralling and alarming at first, however, it's attraction soon wanes and most soldiers appear almost indescribably bored, cooked in the sun and desperate for some entertainment.

Indian independence in 1949 marked a decisive stage in the history of Kashmir when it was divided in two between Pakistan and India. This decision was wholeheartedly against the wishes of Mahatma Gandhi, who insisted that Kashmir must remain part of a unified India. The result has been over half a century of violent conflict, committed, in the main, by terrorist organizations committed to realizing a unified and autonomous Kashmiri state. What has struck me is that there is an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that permeates Kashmiri society. Nowhere is this more evident than in the relationship between the police and the local population. Only yesterday, 5 minutes from my houseboat, there were riots between the locals and the police, whom they accuse of kidnapping and murdering one of their own, a boy of 17.

In Srinagar, shopping can be difficult, as people appear to be forever on strike, using direct action to try to exert pressure on the police. 6 months ago a woman from NZ was raped by two Kashmiri's from outside the area, and the locals believe the police know who and where they are, but are choosing to protect them. The locals regularly strike as a protest against this police corruption, in favour of justice for the woman and to try to soften the blow that such an outrage has against the crucial tourist trade. I certainly noted this as quite a statement concerning the morals of indigenous Kashmiri's, that they sacrifice their interests in an attempt to bring about justice.

Kashmir is no easy place for certain people to travel. For Israeli Jews it is certainly a challenge because prejudice, on the part of Muslims, appears to be widespread, due mainly to the tensions between Israel and the behemoth of Islam, Iran. Some restaurants and shops will not serve an Israeli because of this nonsensical clash of religion. You do not see many Israeli's in Kashmir and for good reason, but those you do, and there are a few, have to adopt a tough but reasonable attitude; they have no trouble with Kashmiri's so why should the Kashmiri's have trouble with them?

Tourism is the big Kashmiri industry after war. The capital Srinagar is home to the serene Dal Lake, an achingly beautiful stretch of water, full of elegant houseboats left over from the collapse of the British raj. These houseboats are the star attraction here and range in quality and price from the super deluxe to the downright decrepit. Some have drawing rooms, mahogany dining tables and four poster beds, others toilets that stink, showers that don't work and owners who wouldn't look out of place in the mafia. There is an entire community who live on the lake and depend on it for their livelihood. They include an army of shikara boatmen, a shikara being a floating taxi with colourful reclining cushions,which make for very a welcome alternative to the humble Indian rickshaw. Everyone travels by shikara, children headed for school, servants off to market and families headed into town for a party. There are floating markets, vegetable gardens, vast swathes of pink lotus flowers and white waterlilies. Overhead eagles circle and swirl in the breeze, scanning the water for signs of fish. In the background the brooding Kashmiri mountain range is set, throwing a protective arm out around the capital.

Life on the lake idles by softly and peacefully most of the time. Kashmiri people know that they live in the lap of luxury when it comes to natural beauty.Throughout India, when you mention Kashmir, they call it the 'paradise' of the land, tarnished by war, but not broken.The Kashmiri people are what remained after the British went away, the sweet secret of the Indian summer, the jewel of the Raj. People would come here from all over India to paddle down the soft backwaters and escape the searing heat of the south. British colonial families could enjoy the decadence of the houseboats, drink tea from Darjeeling and play bridge on the deck. Servants would be on hand to refill gentlemen with their favorite scotch whisky and, the ladies of leisure, with their gin and tonic. Life here must have been heavenly for some British, a paradise within the blistering chaos of the Indian subcontinent.

Nowhere is the natural beauty of Kashmir more evident than when trekking up in the mountains and valleys. We arranged our trek through Hamid, a typical Kashmiri businessman, likeable but shady, the son of the houseboat owner with whom we were staying. As you emerge from the five hour uphill journey through the forest, you are greeted by snowy mountain peaks on all sides, lush grassy meadows and beautiful calm lakes, shimmering in the heat. The landscape is deserted but for a few gypsy families who make their living farming sheep and horses, as they have done for generations. Each day is spent walking amongst the hills, fishing in the lakes and collecting firewood to keep warm in the cold evenings. Springs of pure, fresh mountain water stream by through impressive forests of conifers and pines, a landscape not dissimilar to that of some parts of the British Isles. The altitude is such that on an overcast day you can be enveloped by cloud, and on a beautiful clear day the sun beats down with a relentless ferocity. Five days in this paradise is a breathtaking experience and you can't help but feel envious of those Kashmiri's who live and breathe this life, away from the relative madness of urban dwelling. They are poor but they survive, year in and year out, using skills in horsemanship and mountain survival passed down from their fathers. It is undoubtedly a tough life for any Westerner to endure, and a five day snap shot, amongst the dreamlike setting, was just about perfect.

I am very glad that i took the decision to see Kashmir, as i have learnt so many things about the nature of its people and experienced the joyous surroundings in which they live. War and conflict are ever present, but for the people life moves on,and i do not feel this should put people off, except perhaps for the Israeli's, at least until Jews and Muslims patch things up (fat chance!) It is undoubtedly different to anywhere i have been so far in India and for that reason alone it will long stay in my memory.

Posted by tcbcrews 02:54 Archived in India Comments (1)

Reflections on Rishikesh

Sadhu's, yoga and the Ganges

sunny 45 °C

For me, Rishikesh, located on the banks of the Ganges river, close to its source at the base of the Himalaya's, is the town of the sadhu and yoga. Sadhu's are Hindu holymen, who have renounced all worldly possession to travel destitute on a path to union with their god. To their families they are essentially dead, as they have totally commited their lives to this goal. In truth, however, many sadhu's are devoted to this journey, but many are also almost permanently high due to the large amounts of hashish they smoke in clay pipes called chillums. Lord Shiva, the destroyer, was a reputed heavy stoner and the sadhu follows suit with great abandon. Rishikesh is my first experience of the sadhu en masse and they certainly make for a captvating subject. They congregate on walls, bridges, by the sides of roads, all bearded, braided, many emaciated and all flamboyatly dressed, mainly in orange. Many live in caves on the side of the mountain, and it is possible to go visit them and watch them charge their chillums and light lanterns at night. They are fed by charity, moreover, they perceive that during this spiritual journey they should be provided for in the eyes of god.
Sadhu's flock to rishikesh as it is the first point of the snaking journey of the Ganges, Hinduisms holiest river.Its source is the town of Gangotri, high in the Himalayas, where each year 100,000's of pilgrims, many sadhu's, descend to pay homage to the spot where, in folklore, a beautiful goddess fell to earth, saved only by the dreadlocks of Lord Shiva, and from there was transformed into the mightly Ganga river.
Rishikesh is the self-titled yoga centre of the world. Huge numbers flock here to practice some of the many different forms on show. Some stay in ashrams, as i am, Hindu establishments that offer programmes of spiritual living. These range from strict observances of silence and meditation, to a relaxed peaceful environment, yoga lifestyle and ample free time to pursue other activities, such as reading in the beautful gardens or wandering down to the Ganges to watch families bathing.
My Ashram is called Anand Prakesh Yoga Ashram and is located in the area of Tapovan, which literally translates as 'forest of the yogis.' They teach hathe yoga twice daily, breathing exercises and indian chanting, as well as encouraging guests to contriute to daily life as part of their own karmic yoga. We are fed three times a day with yogic food, consisting mainly of rice, lentils, vegetables and indian bread. Sounds grim to all but the vegan, but is surprisingly tasty, and designed to produce energy for the body to endure the yoga. Often however, due to gluttony and the daily pounding heat, the body is still tired and yoga can be very strenuous. Lights out at 9.30pm and no speaking from 9pm to 9am (this is a rule not observed in my ashram), yoga at 6am and 4pm for two hours, breakfast, lunch and dinner at 8am, noon and 6pm respectively. It is an excellent routine to follow in order to focus on your practice, and all for the bargain price of 400 rupees or £6 a night.
There are two large yoga halls, pretty gardens at front and back, roof terrace and vegetable patch providing organic produce for the food. The staff are very friendly, peaceful and approachable, and contribute greatly to the overall experience. There are two yoga teachers, a phd student in the ancient indian breathing art of pranayama and a 17 year old girl who teaches with a machurity that makies her appear 10 years older. The yoga we practice is the oldest form caled hatha yoga, from which all other branches of yoga stem. The asanas or postures were originally conceived of over 5,000 years ago in the indian sutra's (sanskrit texts), when the yogi's copied them from those of different animals, among them the cobra, camel, locust and scorpion. Each session aims to stretch the whole body, open blocked internal channels through rhythmical breathing and ends with a short meditation. A pleasurable yoga session leaves the body thankful for the experience and often with more energy than at the start of the session. A hard one leaves it sore and tired but is still another step on the road to greater flexibility and a calmer mind.
I recommend Rishikesh highly as a place to visit, not just for its sadhu's and yoga, but also for its beautiful location, harmonious people and inspiring atmosphere. It is ideal if you want to escape the stresses and strains of a hectic, materialistic lifestyle, and reconnect with your true inner self. The Beatles infamously spent time here in an ashram in the 1960's, and were inspired to allegedly write many of the tunes for their celebrated White album. It is not hard to imagine why!

Posted by tcbcrews 21:39 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Kiirtan chanting

sing-a-long with Pankaj, the indian classical music master, and drummer extraordinaire


Shiva, Shiva, Shiva Shambho (2 times)
Mahadeva Shambho, Mahadeva Shambho

Shiva Shiva Mahadeva
Namah Shivaya sadashiva

Hare Hare Mahadev Shambho
Kashi Vishva Nath Gange
Hare Hare Mahadev Shambho (3 times)
Kahsi Vishva Nath Gange

Om Namah Sivaya x4
Kailash Shri Shakti Siva Shankara Ki Jaya Jaya x2
Yamuna Ki Jaya Jaya Ganga Ki Jaya Jaya


Radhe, Radhe, Radhe Shyam
Govinda Radhe, Shrii Radhe
Govinda Radhe, Radhe Shyam
Gapola Radhe, Radhe Shyam

Govinda Jaya, Jaya, Gopala Jaya, Jaya
Radha, Raman Hare Govinda Jaya, Jaya
Govinda Jaya, Jaya, Gopala Jaya, Jaya
Govinda Jaya, Jaya, Gopala Jaya, Jaya

Govinda Narayana, Gopala Narayana
Govinda, Gopala, Narayana
Govinda, Gopala, Narayana
Hari Ananda Govinda Narayana

Bansuri, Bansuri, Bansuri Shyamaki
Hey Krishna x8
Hey Radha x8
Hey Shiva x8
Hey Uma x8

Gopala, Gopala, Devaki Nandana Gopala
Devaki Nandana Gopala, Devaki Nandana Gopala

Divine Feminine

Jai Ganga, Jai Ganga, Jai Ganga Ma x4
Ganga Ma x4
Amma, Amma, Amma, Jai Ganga Ma x4
Ganga Ma x4

Jai Ambe Jagat Ambe
Mata Bhavani Ki Jai Ambe x2
Durga Vinashini Durga Jaya Jaya
Kali Kapalini, Kali Jaya Jaya
Uma Rama Brahmani Jaya Jaya
Radha Rukumani Sita Jaya Jaya

Bajamana Ma, Ma, Ma, Ma, Bajamana Ma, Ma, Ma, Ma
Ananda Mayi Ma, Ma, Ananda Rupa, Ma, Ma

Kali Ma x4
Durga Ma x4
Gayatri Ma x4
Saraswati x4
Uma x4

Aham Prema
I am love

Door of my heart, open wide i keep for you
Will you come, will you come just once unto me?
Or will my days fly away without seeing you my love?
Night and day, night and day. I look for you night and day

Vande Gurudev
Jaya Jaya Gurudev

Posted by tcbcrews 21:42 Archived in India Tagged events Comments (0)

The tale of Naryinder

Battling in the face of adversity

sunny 35 °C
View From the city to the slums on tcbcrews's travel map.

My first inspirational story from India, is the tale of a man who has had his life torn apart, yet refuses to give in to what, for most, would be an enduring fate. His name is Naryinder, and he is my friend and hindi teacher. Naryinder is paralysed from a broken neck he sustained falling backwards on the patio of his home. Before this tragic accident he was a mountaineerer, who had climbed many great peaks of the Himalayas; what great irony that his career should be cut short in front of his own home, and not on one of the great mountains he has conquered! Naryinder is a sweet man and an excellent teacher. Each day at 6pm i go to his house and sit by his bed or wheelchair. He has an assistant as he cannot write, in fact both his arms and legs are severely bent the wrong way. His assistant and friend Vikram stays with him for six months of the year, the other six he is a farmer from a valley over the mountain. He helps Naryinder simply because he loves him, and receives no pay but his lodging. We practice hindi for an hour and then drink lemon tea, eat pakoras provided by his wife and talk.
Natryinder has been paralysed for six years. Last year, he went to Delhi to receive stem cell implants to repair his spinal column, however, the operation was unsuccessful and cost Naryinder his life savings of 500,000 rupees. He then had no arms, legs or money, so reinvented himself as a hindi teacher to get by. Following this huge setback, Naryinder found solace in drinking heavily, assisted as ever by the faithful Vikram. His love of whisky numbed his pain but was also sending him to an early grave, and had it not been for the intervention of another, he would surely now be in it. This intervention took the form of a teacher of pranayama, one of the eight arms of yoga, that focuses on healing the body through prolonged breathing exercises. He persuaded Naryinder to discard the whisky bottle and practice pranayama instead. Naryinder has been doing so now for three months, and says that he is already, very gradually, starting to feel sensation again in his body. This has transforemd his life and given him great hope, and he has promised me that next year i could come back to Dharamsala, stay with him, and he would take me up the mountain himself! He is convinced he will heal and regain what he has lost. As crazy as this may sound to convential western medicine, i do believe that, if not climbing mountains, he can at least learn to walk again. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to see this happen.....it would be a true emblem of the victory of the human spirit.

Posted by tcbcrews 05:09 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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