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Uphill

I’m in India. This is a quite marvellous thing.

I’m here visiting the wonderful ex-flatmate, and seeing the work she is doing as part of an amazing NGO. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but she writes a brilliant blog about it all right here.

I’m very, very lucky to be seeing a part of rural India which maybe a lot of tourists wouldn’t, and it’s really very difficult to convey just how peaceful it is to sit and look out over the hills, to see an eagle hovering above the valley or to watch the sun rise over the water.

One of the flatmate’s projects here involves identifying springs and helping villages to maximise the water they can get from them. Yesterday we went on a hike to visit such a spring. That was less peaceful. That was 16kilometers of sheer drops, scary buffalos, and very crumbly ground. There were sections of dense forest. There were sections of huge spiderwebs. ‘Ask if they’re big spiders,’ I urged the flatmate. The answer was yes. ‘Ask if they’re poisonous,’ I said, and wished I hadn’t.

About two-thirds of the way up, exhausted from the altitude, the flatmate and I tentatively suggested that we might not make it all the way up, and that perhaps it would be better for us to wait on this nice, relatively comfortable set of rocks, in the shade of a fig tree, whilst the villagers took the rest of the (rather more hardy) team up. No, came the definitive answer. It isn’t safe. Why? we asked. It was a very nice tree. You’ll be attacked by monkeys, we were told. We didn’t ask further questions.

After a couple of villagers kindly donated their walking sticks, we carried on up. We saw amazing things like this, a natural staircase carved over time through solid rock:

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And when we made it to the top, we found, in the middle of a shimmering green field of wheat, two houses, where three families live, entirely self-sufficiently and without electricity. One of their sons travels up and down the hill to go to and from school every day. This was suitably shame-inducing. We were given the most delicious food there, and then we carried on.

It was tough, I won’t lie. It’s probably good that I don’t speak Marathi and therefore missed all the talk of baby snakes and how angry we were making the scary buffalo. Our pride also took another beating on discovering, at the spring, that one of the villagers was in his seventies, and was managing quite happily without the stick that one of us was clutching for dear life. The way down was so nerve-wracking that my heart didn’t stop racing for the entire two hour climb, and I can’t really go up or down stairs today.

But at the top, there were views like these. And that, absolutely, was worth it.

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