Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Working for Rajasthan health at Disha Hospital

The children arriving at Disha with their school teachers
We've talked about travel and some of the amazing gardens we saw on our Rajasthan trip, while researching plants for the garden at Disha, but we haven't yet shared details of one of our Health Camps, which we all helped to run. Health Camps are a vitally important way of spreading news to the villagers in Rajasthan and while we were in India, we ran a special Children's Health Camp, where students from two of the local village schools came to Disha Hospital for a general medical check-up.
Dr Deepak Babel carrying out a medical check
Some 120 children from two schools within walking distance of Disha came and spent several hours with their teachers and a team of local helpers, plus the four English visitors (Paul and Pauline McBride, Chris Walker and Charlotte, who founded the Raven Charitable Trust). Dr Deepak Babel conducted the health camp, with assistance from Mr Subhash Goyal, Ms Pooja Bajaj, Mr Hetal Amin, and many other local helpers. The children were weighed, measured and had a 10-point medical check up.
Charlotte with some of the younger children
With more than 100 students, ranging in age from three to 12, we organised a full activity programme for them while they were waiting to see the doctor, including drawing, singing and a traditional Rajasthani puppet show, with a health theme. All volunteers turned their skills to entertaining the children and we also provided a healthy lunch for them.
Pauline (left) and Deepak serving the food for the children
Everybody joined in to help and for once the Indian caste system was left behind. Paul, Pauline, Chris and Charlotte organised the drawing competitions, where the children were asked to draw their homes and families. In the next entry, we will be featuring some of the artwork they produced and asking you to help us choose the winners.
Chris Walker, helping with shoes after the medical check
Chris had to turn his hand to shoe-putting-on-skills as the children finished their medical checks, and Deepak and Pauline got busy serving the lunch (above). But all in all the day was hugely successful and both children and adults thoroughly enjoyed themselves. When the children left, they were all given soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
One of the groups of school children at Disha
When a project like Disha starts, it is vitally important to let the villagers know that there is a hospital nearby where they will receive free treatment, so Health Camps need to be run on a regular basis and aimed at all sectors of the community to encourage the villagers to visit the hospital for the first time. Once they know it is there, they will return when they need medical help.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Step well back in Jodhpur to enjoy this ancient city! A landscape architect's delight.

The modern step well incorporated into the design of Umaid Heritage in Jodhpur
Our sojourn into the Thar Desert behind us, we travelled south to Jodhpur to see what we had come to India for .... gardens!! There are two great gardens of note here - the Chokelao Bagh, at Merangarh Fort and the beautifully maintained Bal Samand gardens. Yet nothing could have prepared us for the surprise we found near the palace - a modern interpretation of an ancient water management system - and an art form in itself!
Chand Baori in Abhaneri, near Jaipur - one of the finest surviving step wells in Rajasthan
Our first stop in Jodhpur was the Umaid Heritage gardens, which are worthy of their own post, so visionary is the design of this new gated housing development laid out below the famed Umaid Bhawan Palace (below) - which serves as both home to the Maharaja of Jodhpur and as one of the world's great luxury hotels.
Umaid Bhawan, Jodpur - the Umaid Heritage gardens are beyond the palace
Step wells (known locally as bawdi or baoli) are unique to the  Western Indian states - a form of water management dating back to the 6th century - conceived to overcome extreme weather conditions in Rajasthan and Gujarat, where there is monsoon for three months of the year, followed by nine months of drought. Construction involved the digging of huge trenches, lined with stone blocks and steps, allowing access to the falling water table throughout the dry months.
The 3,500 Escher style steps at Abhaneri step well descend 13 stories to access water in the dry season
There are step wells throughout India's Western states and one of the finest is found at Abhaneri (above) near Jaipur, where 3500 Escher-style steps descend 13 stories to access the water below. This baori incorporates a temple, and would have served not just as a functional building, but also a meeting place and somewhere to worship, given the scarcity of water in the long, dry months.
Escher-style steps (left) and Indian family (right) show scale of the steps
The Umaid Heritage site in Jodhpur is a joint venture between the Maharaja of Jodhpur and a well established property developer - Essgee - who commissioned architect, Hitash Patel, to design this new residential enclave. And while the houses are spectacular, it is the step well that will surely classify this development as history in the making. Considerable effort has gone into the garden planning here, but it is the ancient water management techniques that will keep this plot green throughout the dry season. This is certainly a plot to watch because I feel sure it will not only win prizes for innovative design, but also for rekindling ancient Indian traditions.
Ancient techniques incorporated into modern design make the Umaid Heritage step well unique

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Skirting the Thar - the Desert Festival

So much for all my good intentions to post regularly from India! Somehow we got swept up in such a flurry of places, events and India-style "happenings", along with such patchy internet connections, that JSF fell by the wayside as we four intrepid travellers visited forts, castles, palaces and gardens. My fellow travellers - Paul and Pauline - have done much better and  have chronicled our adventures on their Sussex Prairies blog, which you can follow by clicking the link.
A not so "wandering" calf, firmly tethered outside our haveli in Phalodi
So filled with remorse, I pick up the reins nearly a month later, from where I left off in Phalodi, the strange, NorthWest frontier town that borders on the Thar Desert. You only stop and stay here if you want to see the remarkable crane feeding ceremony mentioned in my last post. Sad to say, but Phalodi is a real one horse town, filled with wandering cattle and piles of dung that make midnight meanderings around the town an absolute "NO, NO, NO". Although its magnificent Jain temple is worth more than a passing glance. 
The tiny temple (left) is filled with wonderful, ornate glass and mirror work, shimmering in the sunlight. Few visitors get this far in Rajasthan, but if you do make it to Phalodi, make sure you put this temple on your list of places to visit before careering off on a camel in the Thar Desert.
Smiling holy man, found sitting below a tree within the hill fort of Jaisalmer
From here it's on to Jaisalmer, the ancient hill fort town that rises out of the desert in the Westernmost part of Rajasthan. This is a strange place, and not one that I'm likely to return to because it's become such a slave to tourism that every sign screeches about "Lonely Planet" write-ups; every tout tries to sell you a camel safari into the desert; and every spare wall within the city is covered with tourist tat - Ali Baba trousers, carpets, fabrics, and endless pashmina shawls that will not only lose their sparkle when you get them home, but are also likely to disintegrate the moment you try to launder them.
Two children quietly waiting in a sidestreet in Jaisalmer, before they join the Desert Fair parade
We had travelled hundreds of kilometres across deeply rutted roads for the Desert Fair, but soon realised our folly, when the parade started on Day One! We had thought we were coming to a Pushkar style camel fair, but found ourselves enmeshed in a noisy, but colourful parade (top), where camels and drivers were festooned with acrylic decorations. But it's alright, because life looks up after this .... and we start visiting the gardens of Rajasthan.