India day 5: children and animals

“I do not turn away my dog; I turn away you.”
Many of us animal lovers could identify with this quote from the ancient, longest known, epic poem the Mahabharata. Any of you who have seen my earlier posts and pictures from this trip will have seen how the animals abound in India.

Indian literature and spirituality holds animals in high esteem, with Hinduism in particular having several sacred species related to the deities, including snakes, tigers, rats, monkeys, elephants, tigers, eagles and most noticeably cows. On our drive from Delhi airport when we arrived in India, all the traffic on a dual carriageway was parting like the red sea to pass a large, black cow which had settled comfortably for a siesta in the middle of the road.

Since then we have seen ( and fed!) roadside monkeys, dodged cows and oxen aplenty, stepped round street dogs sleeping prostrate in the sunny courtyard of the Red Fort ( a major tourist attraction) and here at Ananda met the most beautiful and regal peacock and his offspring. One of our first instructions on arrival at our room was to close our balcony door when going out, as the local monkeys have acquired the skill of opening the mini-fridge doors. Sadly for us, we have only seen the grounds’ monkey ‘scare-crows’, (or should that be scare-monkeys), amongst the trees and a guard patrolling whilst beating a large stick on the ground. Elephants, leopards and tigers are apparently in core areas of the forest of the surrounding National Park but as their numbers are small we are unlikely to spot them on our way to and from the estate.

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On our fifth day of pampering and rejuvenation, we had time before another, delectable lunch to explore the estate and palace a little further. As we strolled, enjoying the return of the warm sunshine after yesterday’s unexpected chill, we attempted to spot and identify the many unfamiliar birds teasing us from the treetops with their calls. It seems we are unusual in this exercise as every golf buggy that passed en route between spa and palace offered us a lift!

In the late afternoon, we emerged from our meditation session to the sound of music and children singing. Remembering a mention on the week’s calendar of a performance by youngsters from the local children’s home , we headed to the amphitheater to take a seat and catch the last few songs. A small group, ranging in ages from three to late teens sat singing to a small audience, which included two immature peacocks perched on the high stone wall curving around behind them. These birds sat attentively, as if enjoying the show, only moving away when the music stopped.

At this point we were invited to join the little group to ask questions or join them in song. Unusually for me, curiosity overcame my innate shyness in such a situation and I found myself the sole visitor sitting cross-legged with these enchanting youngsters, hearing about their home, its work and projects and in turn quizzing them about their studies and aspirations. The delightful young lad representing them, I learnt, hopes to study as a lawyer. One of the younger girls dreams of becoming an actress and two others love to sing.

Ananda spa sponsors children from the local home, named Ramana’s Garden, and the children perform song and dance in its amphitheatre twice a week to raise awareness and support. Ramana’s Garden’s vision is that every child in India, regardless of caste, creed, or social-economic background, has the right to quality education, proper nutrition, and primary healthcare. In practise this means homing 60 children and taking in a further 120+ daily of families below the poverty line ( BPL means with income around £30 per MONTH), giving them clothes, education and good nutrition from food grown at their own organic farm. The project also works to empower Indian women through literacy and vocational training so that they can generate their own income and thereby gain rights in their own households and communities. They now have international support from an army of volunteers and sponsors and the children often go on to further education, returning to support the home in whatever way they are qualified.

Meeting these young people was a delight and an inspiration. Moved and humbled I returned to my room to research the project in the hope of helping in some small way. How that will be remains to be discovered, but in the meantime, please take a few moments to check out their website and/or the youtube videos at:

Ramana’s Garden Children’s Home, Rishikesh

Ramana’s Garden on Youtube

 

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