It is a well-known fact that the planet is in trouble. Natural resources including fresh water and even the oxygen we breathe are getting rapidly depleted. It is obvious that each and every one of us is obligated to do his or her part to protect the planet, even if it is out of the selfish motive of saving our own skin. The first 2 steps to protecting the environment include being out in the wild and learning to appreciate it, then learning survival skills in the wild and how to use resources such as water more economically.
Between the 9th and the 12th of September, 2017, the 11th and 12th grades of our school went to a spot 140 kilometres away from Hyderabad for the CAST AWAY Nature Turks Program. This program took care of the first two steps that I mentioned earlier: being out in the wild and making us appreciate nature, followed by workshops on survival skills in the wild and live demonstrations of methods of water conservation.
On the first day, after the bus ride through the picturesque route from the airport to the camp, we were treated to our first meal. The meal was simple: nothing but local vegetables and cereals. The roti was made of ragi (a type of millet), containing multiple times the nutritional value of regular wheat, including the highest calcium content in any plant found in the area. There was an assortment of other vegetables, cooked simply, but scrumptious to eat. For example, there were fried slices of ladyfinger that were so crisp and savoury that everyone forgot the packets of crisps and other junk lying in their suitcases. The meal was followed by an orientation on the activities we would do and the rules we would follow. We were shown to our tents and we chose our roommates. I had a great time with my roommates. In the afternoons, during the post-lunch break, we would sleep with our shirts off to fight the afternoon heat. For this, my tent was christened ‘the nudist tent’ by the other children.
We had our first workshop that day, one on tying knots. Yes, apparently the regular ‘shoelace knot’ is safe to use only on our feet! We learned four different knots and several combinations of knots. Surprisingly, each knot is used for very different purposes. We even ended up using this knowledge of knots to build improvised stretchers out of ropes and bamboo sticks. To test them, each team had to put one member on the stretcher and carry them 50 metres away. Not only did this activity make us more dexterous but also improved our coordination as a team and we learned how to efficiently divide the labour amongst us according to our skills.
The next day, we woke up before dawn, at around 4:30 and prepared ourselves for our first trek in the area. We were split into 2 groups for the trek and we walked about 3 kilometers in the hills, climbing on rocks and crawling through bushes. One thing that was amazing there was the cleanliness of the air. Our lungs filled with the scents of multitudes of plants and flowers sprouting after the rains. We saw many unusual bugs, some painted emerald green and scintillating brightly under the sun, depicting many shades of green. Others were black with white spots, White with yellow patterns and the butterflies offered a totally unique plethora of colours. Once at the top of the hill, next to a massive cylindrical rock called the Golden Boulder (after which this campus of Worldview Institute of Learning & Leadership is named, by the way), we zip-lined to a slightly lower cliff and rappelled down 70 feet. This experience was very new for most of us. Very few people could not bring themselves to participate in the rappelling, but those who did participate, myself included, felt a great sense of accomplishment.
The evening was a lot of fun as well. There was a workshop on the dance form Kuchipudi. It was very interesting to see the way only gestures with the hands, feet and expressions could tell us a whole story. This was followed by a game of local sports: Kho-Kho and Kabaddi. For most of these workshops, we remained in groups that had been chosen the day before. For dinner, those who had opted for the ‘non-vegetarian’ option before coming were able to have Spinach Chicken, an interesting dish which I had never tasted before.
The morning of the 11th was one of the most memorable experiences. We went to a fortress named Killa Ghanpur, embedded in the rock of a hill a little distance away from the camp. We went up a tough route, winding through gaps in the rocks, clambering and scrambling over boulders, learning how to find footholds on the giant rocks to be able to climb them. We also went through a cave bordering an ancient, dry water tank. We had to crawl through gaps less than a meter high, but the experience was enthralling. I messed up my clothes during that morning, but it was really worth it!
The evening was a lot of fun as well. Each of us groups had to make a small play titled ‘the Law of the Jungle’ and present it in front of the other groups. My performance as a cow in our play seemed to take everyone by storm!
The last day was the one most concerned with the protection of natural resources, water in particular. We were given data on how much water each daily activity consumes and had to calculate how much we use daily. The average Indian uses 200 litres and I was shocked to learn that many of my comrades consume more than 800 litres a day. This was ensued by a class on how to build a small scale dam using contours. My friends even got to make their own small dams. Sadly, I can’t tell you more about that as I missed it due to me falling ill.
Later on, after our last meal there, some of us went to plant small trees in what is the future outdoors reading space. This was one of my favourite moments, us toiling together under the sun as a team and knowing that we have done a little bit for the environment and for the camp.