One early October weekend, twenty-eight children from Daffodils School, Bangalore, saw the world in a different light…and made a difference that will last a lifetime.
“His mother didn’t want to send him, because his exams are starting day-after-tomorrow,” said Ravi, when I asked why his son Anirudh was not wearing hiking clothes. Exams. This was the common reason the other children who’d dropped out from the trek had given. Despite the fact that it was the school Principal, Mrs.Tejaswini Sankeshwar herself who had mandated that all the Eco Hiking Programme children should go on the trek.
“The things he’ll learn today, the way he processes his thoughts after having this experience, these will have far more impact on his future than schoolbooks,” I assured the father. “I know,” he smiled in agreement. “That’s why I brought him. I want my son to stand apart from the common herd.”
All the Hiking Club children gathered in the school playground, where the first lesson of the day was Punctuality. “When you are in the mountains, a delay of a few minutes can mean the difference between success and failure, and sometimes, between life and death. You need to come together immediately when the Trek Leader summons you, and pay attention to the instructions. You can go back to whatever you were doing after that.”
Some stretching and balancing exercises followed, with Kavitha, professional marathoner and Hiking Club co-ordinator, demonstrating. After this, everybody trooped into the school bus. Vasanth, the PE teacher, and Mrs. Indumathi, the Scouts-and-Guides teacher, took a head count, and we were off!
Nandi One, or Brahmagiri as it is alternately called, lies 55 km north of Bengaluru. The hill, although not as well-known as Nandi Betta, its more popular twin, attracts tourists and picnickers to its base, and these people leave behind a lot of garbage.
One of the chief priorities of the Eco Hiking Programme is to inculcate a sense of eco-consciousness and civic responsibility in children. Izzat, our Green Trails expert, distributed Eco-bags to all in the bus, and explained the purpose and significance of what we were going to do. The children listened with rapt attention as she taught them to differentiate between harmless and non-biodegradable waste.
The trek started at the Saddle, skirting around the hill to take in the breath-taking view of villages and farms far below. “The houses look like toys!” the children exclaimed. “It feels like we’re walking in the clouds! “Excellent weather to trek, indeed, with the sun playing hide-and-seek with the clouds. However, everybody remembered to take sips of water frequently and keep well-hydrated, as instructed. It helped when we broke through the dense bushes and tall lemongrass to reach a wall of bare granite rock.
Some of the boys started clambering up the stone face immediately. Oh, to see them so excited! How grand it’d be to see them have such fun more often, rather than sit in front of a TV!
I felt someone tugging at my T-shirt. It was one of the younger boys. “I went down and climbed up three times!” he said proudly….and immediately the other boys slid down to follow his example! “Come on, you can do it!” shouted the girls in encouragement, pulling each other up and showing the boys that some things are done better with coordination. The group continued, stopping to inspect a variety of flowers and mushrooms along the way. Mrs. Indumathi shared her childhood experiences with the children, telling them about the village she grew up in, and identified several beneficial plants.
Some of the children recalled summer vacations they had spent in grandparents’ villages, saying how different their lives were from people who lived in cities. Soon after, we reached a section of open meadows further up the hill, and took a break. The views were awe-inspiring, with rolling hills undulating into the distance as far as the eye could see. The children were in a different world, losing themselves in the majesty of nature. The scenic abundance continued as we went on all the way to the top.
“Alright, time for a game!” I announced, after we’d finished lunch. Everyone gathered around eagerly. “Explorers have to be good detectives. Somewhere within a 500-metre radius, there’s a hidden path which leads to a temple. Which team can find it? They scampered off in all directions, and soon one batch had found the trail through the dense bushes. Everybody followed, with exclamations of “Whoo! What an adventure! Just like Famous Five!”
Arriving at the temple, we saw the unfortunate evidence of civilisation: littering and plastic waste all around. Everyone got busy filling their Eco-bags, and soon we had two sack-fulls to carry down with us. But now the temple and its surroundings looked neat, and we hoped it would encourage future visitors to keep it that way.
“Callous people don’t think twice to add garbage to a place which is littered,” Arjun explained. “They justify in their minds that it is okay, since the place is already dirty.” This made such an impact on the children, that on the way back down the hill, they kept a sharp lookout for even small fragments of junk. One zestful little girl, Keerthi, went way off the trail to collect discarded plastic bottles, galvanising the other kids to follow her example.
By that time we were almost at the base, and some weekend picnickers stopped to watch the children go about a task which most Indians consider ‘beneath their status’. We smiled proudly, carrying the filled sacks like trophies, back to the bus. The sense of accomplishment as we drove back to the school was tremendous.
If the actions of these children inspired even one of the picnicking families to stop littering in future (and by the looks on their faces, I believe it did), this trek has been worthwhile.
My deepest regards to our little heroes!