Thursday morning- after all waking up still slightly achy from our construction work over the past couple of days and another breakfast of toast and eggs, we headed to the school. As we arrived we were greeted by a towering stack of approximately 2500 bricks and it suddenly dawned on us all that we would have to move them, along with the two piles of grit and sand we started on earlier in the week, along the 70m path to the actual schoolyard. Not an ideal start to the day but motivation still remained high. I think the fact that so many people had their doubts and suspicions as to whether we would be able to do all the construction work (slightly understandably when a group of white girls and one boy, some fairly small in stature, turned up to do labouring in humid conditions) also had the effect of spurring us all on even more to prove them wrong. We all decided that it would be best to focus on the construction work and stop teaching for the time being in order to get as much done as possible so that we could focus more on teaching in the future.
Throughout the day we all fell into a routine of switching between digging in the pit, to shifting the grit/sand in buckets and this time also transporting the bricks using stretchers. Despite only working 10:00 - 14:30 with a lunch break it was a long, hot and tiring day for all, but I think I speak on behalf of the half team when I say that seeing our progress so far makes all the effort worth it and keeps us all going so that we can reach the end goal of providing the school with a way of storing water over the dry summer months.
Many teachers and locals, I think it’s fair to say thought that we were slightly mad at first but luckily, they also appear very impressed and grateful with our work. People passing by often stop to stare in bemusement at our work or to ask where we are from and how much we are getting paid giving them a shock when we explained that we were volunteers at the school. One local man stopped as he passed by to say “I like you. You work very hard. I am very proud”. Atul, our in-country co-ordinator even told us later that one man stopped to ask if we could build his house too! This, along with getting high-fives from the school children at the end of each day is so rewarding for the whole team.
After everyone had a well-deserved rest and shower when we got back to the Guest House, we all changed rooms, something we are going to do weekly from now on, in order for people to have a chance to share with different members of the team.
The next morning we headed into the school again to see an even more daunting sight than the previous morning - MORE BRICKS!! With all of us only managing about 8 bricks in one go between two people using a stretcher we knew this was going to be a long process. Thankfully after a conversation with the headmaster we agreed that it is unrealistic for us all to dig the hole, move the bricks, teach and run after school activities all in the four short weeks that we are at the school. As a result, it was decided that over the weekend someone would come in with mules to transport the bricks which will be a great help. So after another day of work during what was probably the hottest day we’ve had so far, we finished having done a large proportion of the hole with one side being about 6ft down and the other about 7ft down because it is on a slope. Once our make-shift soil step was dug out we had to be careful to put the taller ones of the group in so that they could climb back out again! This progress means that hopefully next week we will be able to start doing more teaching and running more after school sports and homework clubs which everyone is very excited about.
In the evening we headed into town to the tailors to collect our Punjabi suits, trying them on in turn and admiring each other’s - there were so many vibrant colours and beautiful patterns and no doubt we look the part now! The perfect end to the week was being served chicken for dinner at the Guest House - the first meat any of us had eaten since leaving England 10 days ago so you can imagine the excitement amongst the team, leaving everyone in a very good mood which was only made better by eating mangoes after given to us by the Superintendent of the local schools in the area who had grown them in his garden.
On Saturday morning, we woke up earlier than usual to set off to Manali, a rural city situated in the Salong Valley. We expected it to be about a 5 hour journey in the minibus, forgetting that the bumpy roads here add so much time to a journey. We travelled through the Himalayan Mountains - quite literally once when we drove through a long dark tunnel carved into the mountain - going up and down windy roads alongside the River Beas with occasional dogs, cows or even monkeys staring at us from the side of the road as we passed by. Despite a rather uncomfortable journey, the beautiful views more than made up for it with rolling mountains covered in greenery followed by even taller, rocky and snow-capped mountains standing proudly behind. We passed towering waterfalls that rushed down the mountainsides and many small rural villages.
Arriving in Manali, we did a quick change into our Punjabi suits - although the photographing process was somewhat longer after many different combinations of people, angles, positions and backgrounds all to show off our beautiful purchases, with Joey not being left out wearing his Indian tunic. We then headed into the city to first visit the Hidimba Devi Temple, a place of worship dedicated to the Goddess Hidimba in approximately A.D 1553 built with delicate wooden carvings on the outside. We then headed to the local market to be classic tourists and buy souvenirs which of course everyone enjoyed. Manali is noticeably more touristy with more Tibetan influence making it great to see somewhere different in this vast country. For dinner we headed to a more Western-influenced restaurant for cocktails and food such as pizza and pasta - not that we aren’t loving vegetable curries and rice but it was a welcome change and a perfect evening to treat us all.
The following morning, after a well needed lie-in we visited the site where we would have done paragliding if the weather had permitted us but unfortunately the monsoon season came a month later than usual. Despite this disappointment, the views were still fantastic giving many photo opportunities. Our next stop was more temples, Rama Temple and one which had some hot springs and pools traditionally used for bathing in. Our final stop was Nuggar Castle built in the early 16th Century and historically used as a royal residence until the British took over, another interesting sight to see before the long journey back to Palampur. We all thoroughly enjoyed our weekend away seeing new places and now look forward to getting more work done at the school tomorrow.