04 September 2010

Uttarakhand, India: Avani

I leave at night in a autorickshaw, careening through puddly narrow roads.  There are stages with lights, music, and performers everywhere along the dark streets, I wonder which festival it is and what people are celebrating.

Old Delhi train station.  Deep dirty puddles on the smooth floor. I stride quickly past crowds and long lines of tired men waiting, moving, sitting.

Push my way up the stairs, through flows and walls of mothers, men, children, porters, teenagers, vendors, grandfathers, down to the platform.

One overnight train ride north from Delhi, Ranikhet Express 5013, in sleeper class.  God bless ladies quota, I sit in a cell with all women, one middle aged mother, one grandmother, and four teenagers on a trip to visit friends.

I climb up into my bare upper berth, curl around my backpack and sleep in starts and stops.  The conductor never wakes me to take my ticket.

Arrive in Kathgodam at 6 am, only the grandmother is left, sleepily fixing her hair.  Step off the train in the pale light, whisked away in a car further north on a road where the steep curves come in endless waves. I am so very very lucky not to be prone to car sickness. The road is wet and muddy.

It's customary for drivers to honk at every curve, at every oncoming car, passed car, at goats, donkeys, cows, monkeys, and people in the road, and at any other time when it feels right.

Hooooonk, turn, honk honk, swish, hooooooooonk, turn, honk, honk, honk, hoooooooooooonk.
I doze off in fits and starts.

Four hours later arrive at Almora, welcomed by Rajnish and Rashmi, and their precocious toddler Tanwii in their cosy mountain forest home.

Rajnish explains that the monsoon rains are much heavier than usual this year.  Many of the mountain roads are blocked from landslides, so I had been taken on an alternative route longer than usual.

The food is absolutely delicious. Whole wheat chapati, daal, and curried green beans.

It begins to rain hard again, and I worry that I'll never make it.  One hour later, it lightens, and Rajnish shoos me out of the house, also afraid it will rain too hard if I don't leave soon.

The direct road to Tripuradevi is blocked by landslides.  Fortunately there is one much longer alternate route still open.

Five more hours of steep curves, fog, and car horns.  But we do stop at a roadside stand where thin brawny Uttarakhand mountain men laugh and eat from shiny steel trays.  White chapati this time, beans, curry.

I see the landslides now. Piles of rubble running into the steep road. I am suprised and impressed they have been cleared to the side so quickly, that giant pines fallen across the road have been cut through already.  The closed roads must be in absolutely terrible shape if takes so much more time to clear them.

Dodging around large trucks, weaving on narrow streets past jeeps, bikes, and motorcycles. The air is chilly and wet.  We fly by towns and houses with banana trees, gutters overflow with trash, pigs wander in the alleyways, smiling people talk at fruit stands, sit drinking chai.

Trilling truck horns, curves, fog, rain, goats, deep green valleys spotted with light stone houses, steep hills lined with towering pines with fire scarred trunks.  More car horns, we lurch up and through the forest.

At last Tripuradevi! I recognize the gate to Avani, my heart fills my whole chest.

There is so much good here, it is contagious.

Avani headquarters, perched on a mountainside, looks out over a valley and across to the Himalayas.  This is the beating heart of one of the most beautiful industries I've ever seen.

A toddler running through Avani's campus.
The Avani campus above looks out on the view below

There is a solar workshop where local women and youth build solar lanterns to sell to village homes, a place where locals are trained to become solar technicians.

Troubleshooting and repairing a circuit for a faulty solar lantern.

Avani sells and services a range of solar products from lanterns to larger home systems

Sudna is a new trainee learning the skills she needs to be a solar technician.

Avani has also built a thriving industry of local craftspeople who create  hand spun, dyed, woven textiles sold to boutiques worldwide.  Avani has built this network and brings thousands and thousands of dollars of income to an area where employment is very scarce for villagers.

Avani uses natural dyes to add color to wool and silk yarn. 

 One of the weavers takes a break to chat.

 Twisting the tassles on a scarf by hand.

Avani headquarters is full of beautiful people, laughing, working at their job.  Electricity comes from solar, water is harvested from the rain.  There are children running everywhere.

Perhaps one of the most impressive signs of health is that everything is running without Rajnish and Rashmi being there.  They are the founders, they built this place from scratch, and now they can work at their other home hours away as Avani continues to pulse.

And the food, of course, is exquisite.  Whole wheat chapati, vegetables, daal, cold clean water.  We all sit together and eat at wooden benches, smiling faces pile more food on my steel plate, even as I refuse, laughing.

1 comment:

Manpreet said...

Write more. This is beautiful.