Welcome to the official blog for Raleigh India 12I | July - August 2012

Welcome to the Official Blog for Raleigh India 12J September - December 2012.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

First Changeover – Skits and Phase 2 Allocations

After returning from their brief sightseeing/shopping trip to Mysore on Monday, the Venturers returned for an evening of dinner, catching up with their friends from the other teams and entertainment.

They also greeted our two new arrivals - Amber Elisa from Holland and Jennifer from the UK, who have just joined us for Phase 2 and 3. Welcome, both!

The entertainment took the form of skits by each team summing up their project in Phase 1. All four teams had clearly put much effort into preparation (several minutes or even more in some cases!) and the resulting skits were suitably hilarious.

Tango Six - Leeches on trek!
Echo 3 - basha life has all been such fun!
Charlie One - Village life set to music 
They were judged by an incorruptible trio of judges – Simon, Ruth (aka ‘Yummy’ following a possibly misinterpreted comment on last week’s Radio Raleigh broadcast!) and David. The criteria were that they had to be funny, involve the whole team, use at least two languages and sum up the trek.

The winner was .... Tango Five.

Tango Five - portraying rowing on trek, ...
 ... Showing what living in a cramped shelter is like,... 
...And finishing with gusto
They were rewarded with chocolate biscuits presented by Ruth.

'Yummy' and yummies for the winners
Yesterday (Tuesday) morning brought the news everyone was waiting for – the new team and project allocations for Phase 2.

The PMs - also rearranged from Phase 1 - used a variety a ways of ‘attracting’ their new team members – from including their names in poems to making everyone close their eyes and relax while the ‘chosen ones’ were gently tapped on the back!

Charlie Two revealed
Echo Three delighted to be born
The full teams and allocations are:

PMs: Emma, Harry, Laura
Venturers: Ali, Dan, Fabian, Gilles, Jocelyn, Mel, Pauline, Raja, Shivam

PMs: Jenny, Lou, Sarah
Venturers: Alice, Carline, Carrot, Hinesh, Jennifer, Lennard, Mangesh, Shahid

PMs: Alex, Hannah, Jess
Venturers: Adele, Amber Elisa, Angus, Appu, Caroline, Joris, Kana, Sam, Stalin

PMs: Blair, George
Venturers: Chris, Crystal, Fiona, Frederique, Kavya, Quinten, Rory, Seth, Sridhar

You can look up the project locations on the map by clicking under PHASE MAPS on the right.

The afternoon was spent relaxing, washing clothes and packing for the next nineteen days.

Packing for nineteen days - the kitchen sink must be in there somewhere!
After another delicious curry dinner  - Halloween fancy dress was the order of the evening - they enjoyed a super slide show produced and set to music by David, showing some of the highlights of Expedition 12J so far. This was followed by Halloween-themed games including apple bobbing.

This morning the teams all set off for their new project sites, and all have phoned in to confirm their safe arrival.

Watch out for more on David's slide show, the evening's fun and games, and our charity challenge …

Reflections on Charlie One and Echo Three

While back at Fieldbase for the first changeover, two of the PMs took time out to reflect on the end of their projects. Here are their thoughts:

Charlie One - Jenny

Garlands and the words of Gandhi were the parting gifts for Charlie One on their last day at Gandanahalli.

The team of twelve successfully completed twelve eco-sanitation toilets on time, painting several with educational murals and giving beneficiaries a lively lesson on how to use their new loos – dubbed ‘high tech toilets’ by the locals. 

To say thank you, Raleigh’s project partner MYKAPS and the villagers held an ‘opening ceremony’ at the high school, where each Charlie One member was presented with a colourful floral garland and small gifts of appreciation for all their hard work over eighteen days.

One villager quoted Gandhi, saying that by changing the villages, the whole country could then change.

And there was a fond goodbye for the masons, some of whom will also be working on the environmental projects in the next phase.

Jenny taking her turn to receive thanks and a garland 
All smiles for a job well done

Echo Three – Emma

As phase one draws to an end for Echo Three, here’s a look back at our time in Gundathur and achievements to date.  Firstly we designed and built a luxurious and sturdy basha camp (sturdy except in monsoon wind and rain, after which it did need rebuilding on several occasions), and then got on with the task at hand, namely digging. For the first seven days of work in the village the group dug continuously, creating four circular biogas pits, each 4m in diameter and 4ft deep (it seems Indians like using a mix of units as much as Britons!)

This hard slog was interrupted by the Dasara festival, a major event in the Hindu calendar, celebrating when Raman killed Raean who had kidnapped his wife Sita. Over this time everything in the home and even vehicles are blessed to ward off evil, so with everybody celebrating there were no masons available to assist us in the next stage of the construction process. 

Thankfully the Loop arrived, bringing Ruth, Gemma and Teija with welcome shop goodies for the group to indulge in.

Ruth also brought twelve monitoring and evaluation (M&E) questionnaires for the beneficiaries of the first Raleigh biogas project, which took place this time last year in Gundathur. These asked about the families’ experience with Raleigh groups (unanimously positive), how well the unit functions, the reduction in firewood consumption (previously their only fuel source), and the benefits from milk and fertiliser production from the cows. Most group members got involved with the interview process and really enjoyed the experience of visiting families and seeing the benefits first hand, with Jocelyn declaring that by doing M&E her enthusiasm and focus for the project were renewed. 

The next day we took a trip to a temple on a hill with a spectacular view. The temple itself was currently more of a building site... but many people were still worshipping and receiving blessings there, including Carrot, Sivam and Jocelyn. After delicious chai and sweets we took the rollercoaster-like bus ride back down the hill.

On our last free day before being able to work on construction again, we filmed some of the music video to be shown back at Fieldbase (wait to be wowed!) and painted a mural on the bus stop in the village illustrating the biogas process. Carline organised and designed this fantastic and lasting image for the village, with everybody else helping with the painting and at least writing their names. 

We were then back to work after the Dasara festivities had subsided and skilled masons were finally available. With yet more digging to be done to change the slope angle in the bottom of the pit (would it never end?!) we then got on with concreting the base of the biogas pits, mixing sand, cement, stones and water in the right ratios and in the right way. This was really interesting for everyone in the group to learn and get very messy in the process. After concreting the base we built brick walls around the circular pits and output tanks, where the digested cow dung goes to be used as fertiliser. 

In challenging circumstances the group has had to accept that due to Dasara we simply ran out of time and masons to complete the biogas units. The next stage of the construction is to make domes to cover the pits and trap the gas that is released from the cow dung. The masons will finish this technical work over the coming weeks, so we left safe in the knowledge that the units would be finished and the benefits of biogas felt by all the families we had become very fond of. 

One of the four biogas holes - lots of hard work went into them ...
... And lots of appreciation came out

To show their gratitude and great thanks to the group, the village leaders and beneficiary families came to give us a farewell ‘function’ on our last evening. This consisted of speeches of thanks, beautiful fresh flower garlands and a cheers toast using bananas! The male heads of the families and members of our group expressed bonds of friendship and goodwill, followed by shouts of ‘matchee’, the Tamil word for friend that has been the catchphrase of Echo Three. 

More smiles all round - Emma kneeling on the right

Details of what happened at first changeover and team allocations for Phase 2 will follow very soon …

Monday 29 October 2012

Everyone Back At Fieldbase For a Spot of R&R

Just a quick update to say that all four teams arrived safely back at Fieldbase this morning.

They've been handing in their kit and doing some basic admin, and are just heading off into Mysore for a few hours of sightseeing and shopping. This evening will see the first public showing of the skits each team has been preparing. It should be a lot of fun ...

More news soon.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Tango Five - The Final Few Days

David and I have just returned from a three-day visit to Tango Five.

Our visit had been delayed by a day because of the annual Ayudha Pooja blessing, which took place at Fieldbase on Tuesday morning. All the tools and equipment had to be blessed, including the generator, vehicles, computers and hand tools!

In the case of our Bravo vehicle, this involved waving incense and a flame, ringing a bell, attaching leaves and chillies, throwing a watermelon containing red paint at it, painting the wheels and steering wheel and running over lemons! A fascinating glimpse into an aspect of Hindu culture.

'Blessed be the Bravo'
We caught up with Tango Five on Tuesday evening at their campsite in Kerala – a flat drying area in a coffee plantation.

David and I selflessly pitched on the grass, leaving the best sites to Tango Five
 On Wednesday we completed a 12-kilometre trek – fairly flat terrain but very hot weather.

Shahid, Lennard and Appu stopping for chai in the shade
We arrived at our new campsite, which would serve us for two nights, in mid afternoon. Almost immediately on arrival most of us took a dip in the nearby river to cool off and wash skin and clothes. I’m not sure how much cleaner we came out, but we certainly felt much refreshed!
Our campsite for two days - cosy and near a river
The next job was to pitch our tents, change into ‘longs’ and have dinner – predictably noodle-rice- or pasta-based. After dinner, things follow a set routine. First comes the debrief of the day – the day leader giving their view, followed by comments from everyone else including the PMs. Then comes appointment of the next day’s leader, new allocation of jobs (comms, cooking, cleaning etc) and a briefing on the next day’s task. This usually leaves an hour or so for chatting, playing cards etc followed by an early night.

Enjoying a good night out - trek style
On Thursday we rose at 06.00. After the inevitable porridge breakfast, we set off on the 16-kilometre Pakshipathalam trek at 08.30. This was billed as the toughest trek of the expedition. Happily we needed only light packs as we would be returning to the same campsite.

Mel and Ali trying a revolutionary new porridge recipe - stirring anti-clockwise
It started pleasantly enough - a gentle walk through a flat forest looking for elephants (finding only elephant dung, a couple of snakes and an impressive forest squirrel).

Jess pointing to her new hairstyle?

Alice and Lou - surely not laughing at Jess's new hairstyle?
The terrain then became more challenging – still flat but leech-infested. This was my first experience of these creatures. Although very small (about 3 cm long and 2 mm wide in their pre-bloodsucking state) and harmless, their writhing bodies trying to get into my boots and socks reminded me of Raiders of the Lost Ark!

The arduous part came next – a hillside climb of somewhere around 700-1,000 metres, much of it through long grass. The team, fighting fit after fourteen days’ hard exercise, handled it with ease. I, softened by six weeks of ‘easy living’ at Fieldbase, found it more of a challenge and was not exactly at the front, shall we say.

After a quick cheese and cracker lunch, the spectacular part of the trek began. Clambering through bat caves was followed by beautiful views reminiscent of Austria as we made our way along the ridge.

Quinten taking everything in his stride

Appu and Shahid proudly showing off their country

Tango Five - on top of the world
After a short stop to film part of a team skit, we set off gently downwards.

Eat your heart out, Bollywood - Dave attempting to remake Wuthering Heights with Ali as Heathcliff?
Nine hours after starting, we were back in the river near our campsite having another much needed wash. After a tasty and filling boil-in-the bag curry dinner, the evening followed its standard routine.

Thursday was a cycling day through some beautiful scenery and lush fields of crops – rubber, rice, tobacco, bananas and many more. A wide variety of abodes was on show, from very basic to almost palatial. And there was a river crossing.

Lennard - always ready to photograph elephants
Crystal - enjoying being day leader
All-terrain cycling! The water crossing

Tango Five arrived at their new campsite shortly after lunch, in time for David, Big Manju (our driver) and me to get back to Fieldbase before dark. We left the team in good spirits and look forward to seeing them and the other teams on Monday when they return to Fieldbase for first changeover.

As Phase One of Expedition 12J draws to close, I can think of no better way to round things up than to commend to you the following guest blog which Mel kindly phoned in this morning. It gives her overall impressions of her time on Tango Five. Thanks again, Mel!

'Tango Five have been completely and utterly crazy for nineteen days and I’ve loved every minute of it. From day one our group of eleven has been full of enthusiasm and energy as it’s climbed mountains, explored caves, capsized in rivers and eaten enough porridge to keep Quaker Oats in business for another hundred years.  

It’s been epic. It’s now day eighteen and I can’t believe how quickly our trip has gone. We have travelled over 220 km, which to me sounds completely insane. Why would anyone want to do that? It sounds masochistic and cruel, completely impossible to actually enjoy, but I’ve had some of the greatest moments out here in Kerala.

It never ceases to amaze me how many smiles and hellos we get as we walk past shops and houses. “Hello, what is your name?’ is said so often, yet it never gets old. “My name is Mel. What is yours?’ And the majority of our answers are just giggles and huge grins from the teeny weeny, bubbly kids. It’s so sweet. 

We’ve seen one elephant, heaps of monkeys, a few deer and approximately two million leeches. Tango Five have climbed through caves like Gollum while on search for Nirvana, tackled a 3 a.m. night trek and have never, ever, ever eaten enough parotta. Parotta is life. 

The concept of a capsizing war had never occurred to me until our rafting day when our two crazy Dutchies Lennard and Quinten took it upon themselves to do whatever it would take to get everyone in the water. They succeeded numerous times. We had so many that it was really difficult to find an exact figure, but we guesstimated at least twenty! When in the water, stay away from Dutchies.

After three cycling days covering over 130 kms, travelling through serene, lush forests and busy tuk tuk scurrying streets, the universe didn’t think it was fair that I hadn’t fallen off my bike yet. So on our last kilometre of such a stunning trip, I flew over my handlebars, crash landing palms first into the asphalt, and causing poor Jess behind me to do the same. We’re both okay, the only thing wounded being my pride.

 I’d never thought I could walk so far. I didn’t even comprehend the idea of a backpack as well as walking so far. But I’ve done it. We’ve done it. Tango Five have conquered Kerala’s roughest of rough and come out smiling, and of course singing. This has been a completely unbelievable experience and I’m so delighted I’ve been able to do it alongside such awesome people.'

Stay tuned for news of first changeover and the team allocations for Phase Two. Plus a hairy charity challenge we're aiming to start on 1 November ...

Saturday 27 October 2012

Echo Three – ‘A Day in The Life’ and Greetings From All

In the previous blog, Hinesh provided a wonderfully graphic description of Echo Three’s ‘home from home’ basha camp.

Now, in case you were wondering what the team does apart from luxuriate in it, here’s a guest blog kindly written by Carline on ‘A Day in the Life of an Echo Three Venturer.’ Thanks, Carline.

Carline being serenaded and watched by teammates - hoping she'll pull out more Parle Gs? 
 '‘Echo 3 here again. Rise and shine for a new day of digging.’ After our personal wake-up call arranged by the day leader, we start our day with ('expletive deleted') porridge. After Shivam brushes his teeth perfectly and Fabian just gets up out of the basha, we start our morning stretches. 

Then with bandales and mamptis in hand we head off to the houses, and the digging begins… 

Instead of using real machines to dig, we transform ourselves into machines. We may not have spinach to make us stronger, but we’ve got Carrot!

Working on one of the four biogas holes - using mampti, mandales and harri pole
Thankfully our hard work never goes unnoticed and we’ve at least ten children watching us all the time. They always keep us smiling by asking, ‘Hi! What’s your name?’ about twenty times a day.

After a couple of hours of hard work, we have a break for our second breakfast of the day – something significantly more tasty than porridge. The lovely families have been cooking us a lovely variety of traditional Indian dishes, not to mention the delicious sweet chai that we are constantly being supplied with. This all gives us renewed energy for some more digging.

At lunchtime we head back to our ‘pimped out’ camp, where the two housewives / househusbands will have prepared a rice, noodles or pasta lunch for us. Thanks to these lovely housewives/househusbands, our lunchtimes become very lazy, but luckily we’ve got Dan and his jokes to keep us going.

After a couple of hours of more hard digging, it is once again back to camp. Sarah keeps us all motivated so that digging won’t become too hard for us. On the way back home Emma loves the children knowing our names and following us.

When we get to camp we all take a shower, some people in the reservoir and other people in our self-built shower. When everyone has washed off all the dirt off his/herself, we sit down, chill and have a lovely evening meal. 

At half past six the sun is gone, and that means ('expletive deleted') bugs – and not only bugs but rain, thunder and lightning as well. But that won’t stop us from smiling. While Pauline, Jocelyn and Carline are joking around, Mangesh entertains the rest with some good card tricks.

After a good stormy evening, everyone goes to bed except Hinesh, who always stays up the latest. When everyone is finally sleeping, some in dry and others in wet bashas, Pauline has a busy night sleeptalking, which gives us a good morning laugh.

As you can read, we’re working hard but also having a lot of fun.

Big kisses to home from all of us.'

Last but certainly not least, in just in case Hinesh’s description of ‘chez Echo Three’ left any gaps in your mind’s eye, or you’re wondering about the welfare of those you care about, take a look at this short video filmed by Ruth during her, Gemma's and Teija's visit last week!

An update on Tango Five will follow very soon.

All four project teams return to Fieldbase for 'first changeover' on Monday. They'll enjoy a brief tourist visit to Mysore, a spot of relaxation and merriment, and be allocated into new teams for Phase 2, which starts on Wednesday. Stay tuned!

Monday 22 October 2012

Echo Three - Outdoor Living in Style

First news from Echo Three on-site comes thanks to Hinesh, who kindly wrote and dictated this guest blog to enable you to visualize their ‘home from home’ camp in Gandathur. Thanks, Hinesh.

Hinesh - chilling out during trek training
 ‘Hello, world! Echo Three here writing to you from the beautiful Gandathur reservoir. Firstly, let’s start by painting a picture for you of what our camp looks like. 

On the far left, facing the reservoir, we have the lavishly decorated kitchen / dining room area. These spacious rooms have been constructed by tying tarpaulins on to multiple bamboo poles to provide much needed shelter from the rain - and the cows that visit us on a daily basis. Inside this area we have several exquisite mats and even an inflatable rubber ring, serving the dual purpose of safety and comfort.

Moving to the kitchen, we have a portable gas stove and incredible (seriously) multi-purpose workstation. This is made out of – you guessed it – more bamboo, and serves as a hand washing, mess tin cleaning, vegetable chopping surface all at once.

Moving on to our own personal quarters, we have twelve extremely sturdy (apart from mine), often watertight (though Carline would beg to differ) basha beds. These have been constructed of more bamboo and covered in tarpaulin.

The next area of our camp is our very own personal hygiene area, consisting of a state-of-the-art longdrop toilet and a showering area. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term ‘longdrop’ it is just a hole in the ground – no flushing required - and you just cover up what you have done with dirt, to keep the flies away. The showering area is complete with bamboo flooring and requires one to two buckets of murky brown reservoir water, destroying the illusion that we are actually getting clean while doing this. Despite this, Shivam can often be seen emerging with a comb in hand, perfecting his newly crafted hairdo. 

You parents may be gasping in horror that your poor children are being put through such hardship. With the gusting monsoon-type winds and thunderous downpours, surely your poor babies are being tested to their limits? Pauline for one was tested - after a particularly brutal night she was driven to vent her anger and cause havoc not only to her own basha but to everyone else’s in the vicinity! She’s okay now though. And even Sarah, who threatened that her dark alter ego may surface if times became testing, has remained as sweet and unintelligible (thanks to her wonderful kiwi accent) as ever.

Finally, we have our chillout area, fitted with a Fabian Wood original hammock and volleyball court (though the net has fallen over at the moment). Many an afternoon has been spent with hordes of young Indian children begging us to play volleyball with them, until Mangesh and Carrot finally give in and play, with Dan glowering disapprovingly in the background!

The mood in the camp has always been positive and amicable between the eleven of us happy campers, in part due to Emma’s continuous singing and fabrication of lyrics and Jocelyn’s ability to see the funny side in any and every situation.

All in all, aside from the occasional testing weather conditions (as I write this, the monsoon is just beginning again), our camp is simple but most definitely an excellent home to come back to after a hard day at work. For a full account of a day in the life of an Echo Three Venturer, stay tuned.’

Look out for more news and pictures from both Echo Three and Tango Five at the end of the week…

Sunday 21 October 2012

News from Tango Five

Here’s the first news of Tango Five since they set off on trek. It takes the form of a guest blog from Mel and Alice, dictated over the phone during yesterday afternoon's SITREP (situation report) call to Fieldbase.

Mel and Alice exercising during trek training - strengthening their writing arms ?
Many thanks to them both for this brief but beautifully evocative piece:

Tango Five Staying Alive

Our group of eleven misfits has set off into the unknown terrain of Kerala facing the harsh Indian elements. We’ve conquered the bloodsucking leeches, the twelve-hour storm, the baking heat and of course the leaky tents. Despite these challenges we’ve had an amazing time.

We’ve travelled 120 kilometres so far, trekking, cycling and rafting, and the views continue to stun us every day, even after a surprise six-hour night trek thanks to our PMs.

Throughout our trek we’ve gotten to know our guides very well and given them nicknames such as our freaky guide Michael Jackson.

We continue to grow as a group despite the increase in our pungent smells and grubby appearances. Only nine days left – what will India have in store for us?

I hope to have a brief news update from Echo Three by tomorrow. Watch out for more news - and pictures - from both Echo Three and Tango Five after Gemma, Ruth and Teija's visit to Echo Three and Dave’s and my visit to Tango Five next week.

Out And About With Tango Six - The Photos

Fun, action packed, challenging and picturesque - that’s Tango Six!

Just to prove it, as promised, here’s a selection of David’s photos.

More photos will make their way into slide shows and the magazine that Venturers will bring home with them at the end of the expedition.



Seth showing that men can multitask - drinking and taking a photo

Raja enjoying being in the lead
Sam considering 'manning up' - why carry one bag when you could carry two?
Sridhar and Gilles - over the hill
Laura showing how easy it all is
Sridhar enjoying a drink in the mist
Caroline at peace with the world
Alex not quite mastering the skill of camouflage
Blair, Caroline, Anna and Simon forcing the pace

Building a shelter

A bijou residence in the making
Laura adding the final touches

Gilles caught out by a sudden drought
Anna and Adele comparing their spare tyres
Adele - waiting to board or hoping they'll go away?
Blair leading by example ...
... While Becky looks on unphased ...
... And Fiona rises to the challenge


Home sweet home - a place in the country
Raju, Sam and Seth replenishing calories
PMs Laura, Alex and Blair enjoying cocktails (nothing exciting - Raleigh expeditions are 'dry')
Trying to listen to Radio Raleigh despite intermittent comms -  Becky adding a touch of brightness

A few words from the man behind the camera:
It was such a pleasure to join Tango 6 for the first few days of their adventure.  Climbing Misappulimala, seeing how deep the guys dug to meet the challenge was a privilege, and the rafting morning was possibly the most fun I have had since arriving in India.  Thanks again to everyone in Tango 6 and I hope the rest of their trek has the same vibe as the part I experienced.  - David

For those of you waiting to read about Echo Three and Tango Five, please be reassured that everyone in both teams is well. I expect to be able to publish brief updates from both later today or tomorrow.

More news and pictures will follow as soon as we can get them.  David and I are off to visit Tango Five on Tuesday for four days, and Gemma, Ruth and Teija are about to leave for Echo Three. So expect news and photos from both around next weekend.