India, you beautiful mess #1

India, you beautiful mess #1

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We’ve been a little quiet over the past month, but we have a good excuse – I have been in India and I’d like to share some of my experiences with you…

Those of you that have been lucky enough to travel to India will surely agree that it’s a beautiful, colourful and crazy country. It batters your senses with sounds of horns, chanting, crows, sights of saris, flowers, piles of plastic and smells of incense, chai and burning rubbish. It’s a country of extremes and contradictions; abundance and poverty, beauty and mess, rubbish and resourcefulness, meditation and mental driving.

 

Just a month in such a huge country doesn’t get you very far so we decided to explore the lushious, green jungle lands and stunning shorelines of Kerala in South West India – ‘God’s own country’ – according to the many, many signs, and every Keralan you speak to. However, the first part of my trip was spent in an ashram in Karnataka, close to Mysore, in a stunning location on the banks of the Kabini river. Run as a not for profit eco-ashram and a permaculture farm we were surrounded by plants and wildlife; flowers that open at night, jackfruit, papaya and tamarind trees, colourful (and loud) birds, geckos, giant frogs, many insects, cows and even a crocodile in the river (which gladly I didn’t see myself). It was a peaceful paradise, apart from the bell ringing at 5.30am every morning as a wake up call!

 

So when I left the safe and calm surroundings of the ashram and headed to Bangalore city to meet my partner Dan I had to brace myself for the everyday India – the mad, loud, colourful craziness of a fast growing Indian city…

Everyone is on the roads and everyone wants to over take. There are no rules, there are no windows, there are no seat belts but that doesn’t matter because you probably didn’t get a seat anyway. This is in equal measures exhilarating and terrifying. Indians think you are mad if you try to walk anywhere – to be fair it’s understandable as when there are pavements they are more like life threatening obstacle courses than safe places for people to walk. But this tendancy towards traffic is taking it’s toll. India is so polluted. You can taste it in the air and you can see it in the hazy sky.

 

According to recent figures, out of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, 10 of them are in India. This is pretty scary stuff. It’s not just the excessive traffic and dirty fuel that’s polluting the air, they are burning their rubbish everywhere, on the roadside, in the fields, and pretty much on their frontdoor steps. The process seems as normal to them as it is for us putting the bins out.

Last year WHO reported that the Indian government were attempting to tackle air pollution with measures including ‘switching to clean energy sources for cook stoves, public transport and industry, as well as measures to reduce road traffic by raising fuel taxes and parking fees, levying congestion charges, and creating vehicle-free zones and cycle paths.’ But after seeing how many livelihoods rely on auto rickshaws and transportation systems you realise this will not be a quick or simple process at all.

And it’s not just the cities that are affected by the pollution, as we trek high up into the tea plantations and of Munnar and marvel at the mountainous views, we realise that we can’t see as far as we should – a smoggy haze, topped in murky brown, sits firmly on the hills. But then just as you are starting to feel overwhelmed and frustrated by all the mess and pollution India goes and wins your heart back with deep green quilted tea plantations, bird filled jungles and spices growing on the slopes and in groves.

 

And infact it’s not all doom and gloom for energy production in India. As we trundle past the palm trees and paddy fields of the West coast heading towards Kochin on a never ending (in length of train and length of journey so it seems) sleeper train, the jungle opens up to reveal a sea of solar panels stretching out before us, soaking up the sun. It turns out India are big solar power innovators, and it makes sense really with all that sunshine and space. They have built the world’s first fully solar powered airport and have the largest solar power plant. In a country where more than 300 million people still have no access to power, solar power on a large scale could make a real difference to people’s lives and the environment.

 

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