Daily snippets of our final week living in rural India, Buldana.
Monday: Just saying it one more time…It’s hot! It’s hot! It’s god damn too hot! The weather forecast is atrocious too: 39 and above 40 for the rest of our stay here. It’s hard to keep the motivation up and clear thinking in this unrelenting dry heat especially without some kind of cool change coming in and relieving it. Each day it is the same weather wise, or worse, and it starts at 9am in the morning and we don’t get any relief until about 6pm in the evening. Often Steve and I will go out then for a wander around the back streets of Buldana, but it’s hard getting the girls out in this heat. We have discovered in these last couple of weeks a local restaurant across the road to our apartment with fans and air conditioning so we often lug our weary bodies over there to sit and enjoy a cool drink and change up the scenery of being cooped inside our apartment during the day.
It’s always been our plan to depart India before the rainy season commenced in Buldana and when the heat becomes completely unbearable to live in, explore and tour around. But it arrived earlier than expected and as we experience the shoulder season of the approaching rainy season, we now have a taste of what living here in the Indian heat is really like.
The nine of us (our family of 6 and Steve’s sister Andrea’s family of 3) are still on waitlist for our country train from Malkapur Railway Station to New Delhi on Saturday afternoon. We are seventh onwards on the waitlist. If we don’t get un-waitlisted by Friday we can go online to Tatkal Railway Reservation system as a backup.
Train seats are pre-booked in advance on a number of trains at different days and times, it keeps people’s options open. And due to this train being the only train leaving from rural Malkapur once a week to the capital it’s a popular one in this area. People pre-book their seats and sleeper compartments but change their itineraries the week leading up to departure. We still have a good chance of securing our sleeper berths being number seven in line. If not, backup is the Tatkal service, which opens 24 hours before the train departs and you pay a premium to reserve seating on the train. Sounds like a crazy system, and it probably is, but it has worked for us on all our train journeys in India so far. Again we are very grateful for Dr Moses who has assisted with all our train bookings so far in India.
Tuesday: Today we celebrate 100 days since being on the road! Which means we’ve managed to survive the overseas journey into triple digits and we are all still alive!
Extended travel sounds thrilling and adventuresome and straight forward, but in reality it’s a tough road with many bumpy bits when you least expect them. I realise many people’s perception before we left was that we were embarking on an extended overseas holiday. I can see how they think that. But in reality this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are certainly elements of our former life that we have completely left behind, like we would do on a more traditional 2-week holiday such as not having to perform any formal work, kids not attending standard school or classes, and we are exploring all of the time and learning and experiencing diverse cultures, food, people and places. I can go to sleep any time I want to, sleep in if I have to. But travelling full time with a family on a budget for an entire year has been the most stressful experience too. A year can feel never ending.
The perception that life on the road is somehow ‘cruisy’ and straight forward was discarded in our first month with train booking problems, over spending and well to be honest teenager attitude on the road felt more intense than it did in our home environment. And as we said pre-departure, we may need to make it – this journey – up as we go along. I have no idea what’s around the corner or where we’ll be in six months’ time. Steve and I are only looking and planning ahead in three month blocks. I’ve never lived in the world like this before, except for shorter stints overseas with the family. Just like raising your own children, there’s no one-size-fits-all-easy-to-follow-long-term-family-travel manual lurching about…is there? Hmmm…maybe we could create one for fellow family adventurers who want to experience more out of the world than the usual pathway and structure of birth-schooling-work-marriage-work-kids-work-mortgage-work-retirement-travel finally-old age-death.
I know here we are all learning and understanding ourselves and the world more than we were back home. We have forced our entire family out of its comfort zone and plonked us into a world where not much makes sense only because that’s not how we were brought up. But that’s the idea about doing this – a kind of social experiment. I wonder if young people if exposed to foreign cultures and places and people at an early age actually have more empathy for the plight of millions of other human beings? We want our family to wake up to the world we live in and see what’s really happening in the places we stay in and with the people we meet and become friends with.
I’m proud of what we have done and who we have become in 100 days – we’ve seen and experienced so much, and it’s in reflecting back on those experiences, places and people that we truly appreciate where we have grown and expanded as human beings and to judge then being awake to the world. But don’t get me wrong, there are times where I really wonder what the heck I’m doing. My daughters are amazingly resilient in their ability to take life on the road and adapt and adopt to the world around them and make themselves fit in and live here. But on the other side of that same coin, gee they can also be stubborn, grumpy and uncompromising. Breakthroughs and breakdowns part of the cycle of living. It’s the yin-yang of being human – our greatest qualities are also complimented by our greatest weaknesses.
But where I focus my attention and gratitude, and what keeps me going on this journey when I have no more patience or energy with my challenging-fun clan is their growth as global citizens and the expansion of their world view and their place in the world. I am constantly reminded that being able to do something like what we, the SixBackpacks, are taking on throughout 2017 is something of a privilege not just because we have the health, wealth (read here time & money) but most importantly because we have an Australian passport. This is our golden ticket to anywhere in the world at any time. We meet so many people here in India who will never ever get to leave their village, their city, let alone country and they’ll never get to experience the world as we are able to. We can be explorers because we are a certain nationality that permits that to happen today. And that friends is priceless.
Andrea and boys arrived into Buldana in the dark of the night. Delayed flight from Mumbai by an hour means their arrival into Aurangabad is later than expected but we still manage to pop over to their hotel just after they arrive into Buldana – the Sai Residency – to welcome them to here. Dr Moses is getting all the paperwork lodged with passports and visas. We have three whole days here in Buldana town to give them a taste of what we have been experiencing here for nine weeks! The girls are overjoyed at seeing their cousins Luke (18 years) and Harry (13 years) and finally having younger people they know to catch up with over the next two or so weeks.
Wednesday: We took the new family arrivals on a tour of Buldana town, and a visit to the lassi café. Auto rickshaw rides up and back was fun for the kids. The girls are so independent now that they grab an auto and off they go – to the shops up in town. Most of the drivers know us now – people are always asking “why are you still here?” and “we will miss you when you go”. We met up with Master A at the law courts and had a great time catching up with him – hopefully he will attend school in July with Dr Moses’ support.
This afternoon we leave the kids in the AC coolness of Andrea’s Hotel room where they lap up the good air conditioning while we adults get out to see Dr Moses and his team in the preschool office. We sit and have a chat. I’m going to miss our little chats and all the answers he provides for my questions. I have come to understand so much here in nine weeks with Dr Moses and his team and family. It’s a shame we are leaving because I can see there is so much we could do to assist his team on the ground here like structuring, budgeting, fundraising for amazing projects.
We pop into the only Buldana bookshop which is located downstairs from the pre-school office and Andrea and I buy some English books to read on our upcoming 11-day northern India trip in the state of Rajasthan. The bookshop has been operating for 15 years and the room’s walls are lined with books – most in Marathi (local language of Maharashtra state) but there’s a healthy collection of novels, both fiction and non-fiction, in English too. I would love to work in a bookshop and ask the man, “could I work here?” He said, “No” with a laugh of you’ve got to be kidding me, but I wasn’t!
Thursday: The power cut out at our apartment and the shops across the road about 10am this morning and we didn’t get it back on until 5pm. Let’s just say it was a tough day coping and managing in the 42-degree heat (felt more like 50!) without fans! And by the time the afternoon came around inside the apartment was like a stifling sauna. I was lying on the couch in the afternoon completely exhausted in the living room with my clothes literally sticking to my wet sweaty skin in a state of despair. But at 5:20pm, I got myself up and headed off to my very last Yoga session with my instructor. It’s been a day of sad farewells. I’m not enjoying uprooting our family once again and leaving all the lovely people we have met behind. I think we are truly going to miss Buldana next week.
It was a busy morning starting with a traditional Indian welcome for the newest visitors to Buldana: Andrea, Luke and Harry at the pre-school with the presentation of garlands around their necks by some of Dr Moses’ team members. We then drove into the nearest village of Guiaan to deliver the sewing machine we had raised money from Australia to a young 23-year old woman who has participated in the CBHP-run classes for over six months and was the recipient of the new sewing machine in her village home. At midday standing in her tin enclosed home, must have been a scorching 50 degrees at least! But nonetheless, we had a tour of her home, met her children, and she was so very thankful for the sewing machine. Many of the women learn sewing not to make a business out of it, but to sew for themselves and their families. It saves a lot of money not having to get others to perform these stitching tasks, and it give women a trade and a skill, something useful to do beyond their wife duties of cooking, cleaning, child rearing and working in family farms.
We walked to the village centre, and met with Maya’s (sewing training woman) family again. Maya is the Village Health Worker (VHW) for CBHP and her family are just beautiful people. Maya is one of four with two other sisters and one brother. Today we met them all except one of the sisters’ who is married and lives in another village with her husband and in-laws. Maya’s sister is a police woman, who we had met previously, and is looking at investing in constructing and making her parent’s family home better before she gets married. As a police member in a government job, Maya’s sister receives a good wage compared to what villagers can earn in their lifetimes, so she wants to build something for her parents before she gets married. Once married, women do not invest in their parent’s home as their focus changes completely to their new family – her husband and in laws.
After returning to our apartment from visiting the village, it was time to pack Roadie Monday’s bag and say our final farewell to our street pup we have raised for two months. It’s unbelievable that it has in fact been only two months since Dacey saw Roadie in the stadium car park and insisted on saving the young weak and weary street pup from imminent death. Now he is a healthy and happy pup, who just wants to play and run around and be naughty! We have connected with a family who loves animals: they have birds and parrots, baby goats, buffalo and another pup called Dolly who Roadie had a couple of play dates with over the last month.
And Roadie was delighted to meet up again with his canine friend Dolly today and as we were trying to say goodbye to him forever, he was too preoccupied with playing with Dolly and smelling around his new home and neighbourhood. It made the transfer all the easier on Dacey I think because she could see how happy he was going to be here; he belongs here in rural India and it was a perfect time to let him go. We purchased an extra bag of dry food and gave all our accumulated pet supplies to the new owners – shampoo, calcium, worming, flea powder and a couple of chewing sticks.
I shed a few tears as we left in the car, but Dacey seemed to hold it all together. I put my arm around her, but I think I really needed the hug more. I think she will miss him dearly but we have many fond memories of him and his personality and photos that he will always be remembered and talked about. I’m glad we only have two nights in Buldana without him being here at the apartment before we leave. It’s already quite a strange feeling not having him around our feet.
Tonight we celebrated Papa’s (Dr Moses’ father) 85th birthday at the Gymkhana restaurant. Amazing amazing feat as the average age of an Indian man is under 70 years of age! A lovely family dinner with authentic Indian food and cake to share afterwards. Varsha (Dr Moses’ sister) called the new family who now have Roadie to just check in to see how he was going and the response was positive. Roadie was happily playing with Dolly and all was good (sigh!).
Friday: It’s Billie’s 13th birthday today! Apparently at 9:13am Billie will celebrate her 13th birthday as she has worked out the precise time she was born and adjusted the time zone difference. However, she slept in but it was nice to wake her with some birthday messages. There is really not much to do here for the newest teenager on her 13th birthday, so Billie is saving all her birthday money and wants to do some shopping in Spain where we arrive after the school holidays.
But that doesn’t prevent us from having some birthday fun Indian-style – like happy cake o the face! It’s a tradition that birthdays are celebrated with cake and once the singing is over, a piece of that cake is fed to the birthday boy or girl, and then quickly smeared over their face! And we didn’t disappoint – at the end of the night Billie had chocolate all over her face and the restaurant put on a tacky birthday song through the speakers! It was fun.
This morning we have been totally preoccupied with getting ourselves onto a train tomorrow afternoon to Delhi. But after a couple of hours of trying Tatkal and Premium Tatkal, we have not been successful in securing or confirming nine sleeper seats on a 2A/C train from Malkapur Station to New Delhi. So the frantic search was on for how we could get to Delhi from Buldana sometime this weekend. Dr Moses and Steve checked other sleeper classes, train stations, and then we considered the option of driving 6 hours to Nagpur city (on the north of the state border) and catching a plane from Nagpur Airport to Delhi for about $100 each. But then Romey called, the man who works for the official government tourist office in Delhi and who we are going through for our Golden Triangle tour booking, and said he would also search for seats on trains as well. 10 minutes later we had a train leaving from The Junction Railway Station (about 2.5 hour’s drive away from Buldana) and we are booked for Sunday night at 8pm. It just means we need to shave a night off our tour – and that will be Agra. So we will still visit the glorious Taj Mahal, but we won’t stay the night in Agra which is what I did two years ago on my solo Golden Triangle tour.
It was a very tense couple of hours, watching limited available tickets disappear on Tatkal, and not having enough seats available for all nine of us. It’s all worked out now, but the train booking system on the India Railways is one that I don’t quite understand fully, and doubt I will get to on this trip. There was always the plan E option of driving 3-4 hours to Aurangabad Airport and catching a domestic flight from there, but flights to Delhi cost about $200 each. And multiply that by six people for our family, the costs start adding up when it’s only a 1.5-hour domestic flight.
We hear through the Kharat family that the young Nikita has been calling them wanting to see us before we leave Buldana. So we arranged to visit her slum home at 2pm today with Andrea and the boys and say farewell (another goodbye!) to her and her grandparents. It was scorching again, but it was nice to see her and her grandparents. Nikita sat at her new sewing machine, and was all smiles. The bike is great and life I think is on the up for Nikita. Her grandfather was concerned that Nikita was not completing her homework, and it was a funny moment when I mentioned that even my own children don’t finish their work and that I could fully understand his concern and frustrations. I think he wants to ensure Nikita stays in school and keeps her sewing passion as a hobby – in other words has some balance in her life.
I ‘pinky promised’ Nikita that I would return and visit her and her family again. She is an amazing and resilient young girl, and I hope the best for her and her grandparents in the future. She is smiling more now, seems less intimidated by our language and culture barriers and we are enjoying each other’s company the more we see one another. She’s going to go far I hope. Nikita Designs? I think she likes her name – Nikita – as she has written it all over their slum home in pink or baby blue colours on the iron walls or wooden doors of her slum home. I give her a bag which contains a bundle of old materials she may like to use for sewing and practising as well as a plain thick artists drawing book that Billie won’t use and a bunch of coloured textas. She is an arty type and hope these tools can help her build her designs and patterns in sewing. She is very happy.
Our final night will be Saturday night now in Buldana and we are celebrating with the Kharat family at a restaurant. Tonight we will celebrate Billie’s birthday with family and try and get an earlier night sleep (if possible in this unbearable heat wave).
Saturday: Now a day to pack and celebrate a night out to officially end our stay here in Buldana with the Kharat family.
It was busy with a visit to Dr Moses’ parent’s home for a farewell morning tea. But before this, we had visitors come to our door at our apartment Dwarka: Nikita and her grandfather holding a watermelon. They were so excited to come over and they wanted to buy everyone in the house an ice-cream! Billie and Dacey were still dozing in the front room with Harry from a sleep over, I was still in my PJs – but Nikita floated around the apartment counting the number of people here and then she and her cheeky grandfather skipped happily down the stairs to the shops.
They returned with a large mango fruit drink, as it was too early for even the ice cream shop! We spoke in limited English to each other, and then they were off. Lots of hugs and shaking hands and a couple of pics before they left us. Such a beautifully kind family.
A visit to Sunset Point to overlook the valley in the late afternoon was a perfect way to say goodbye to Buldana. There was a lovely breeze out there but it was stained hot from the horrid temperature that had plagued us for the last 10 days. Andrea and Luke enjoyed the lookout and the peace and quiet of Sunset Point.
A final gym session, and then we enjoyed a lovely last family dinner together with the Kharat family, where we exchanged gifts and made a couple of speeches. The power blacked out a couple of times, but returned. I was a dribbling mess throughout making my thank you speech and we all shed tears together. But this is really it. No more Roadie, gym, yoga, auto rickshaw rides up to town, village visits, Gymkhana dinners. The reality of leaving Buldana after nine weeks was now catching up with the itinerary and we were experiencing ‘lasts’ for many things. I’m not sure if there is a reverse of culture shock, but we are all saddened to leave a place we fought to understand and just be with so much.
And of course a final rooftop sunset.
Sunday: Depart 8:00pm for overnight 2nd class air conditioned train to New Delhi Train Station from The Junction Railway Station.
Bonus of staying an extra night here in Buldana is that Andrea and the boys get to see the Sunday Buldana market. We are nearly there with the packing, I have been doing bits and pieces each day and the #onepinksuitcase is filled up once more with school books, teddy bears, and clothes.
This week I have been riding a wave of emotions that I really didn’t expect to be dealing with so intensely. But having been a small part of this Buldana community for nine weeks, and knowing the struggle we have moved through to a feeling of belonging I suppose this is what it feels like to leave after everything we have gone through emotionally with the girls. I just didn’t think about the reality of always uprooting and moving on in our year long journey which means leaving everybody we have been connected to behind. We have grown close to people and the place and now we enter a process of emotionally detangling ourselves from them.
Steve has many people he has made friends with here in Buldana, and he will have to scoot around to all of them today and say his final farewells.
But everything is packed up now. We have tickets booked. We are ready.
Goodbye and thank you Buldana.
We now travel by overnight train to the capital city of Delhi where we commence a 10-day tour of the Golden Triangle plus visit a few more magical cities in the area. I may not be able to post here on my blog for the next couple of weeks, but will see how the internet and time goes. I will continue to upload photos and snippets of the journey onto my social media pages: Instagram and Facebook. Hope you can follow us there!
So bon voyage for now as we embark on the next phase of enjoying the school holidays. We will be back online in a new continent (Europe), a new country (Spain) and a new time zone (got to work that one out still) on 14 April. Bye for now.