Our next state in India would be Uttarakhand where we would be heading to our first volunteer project working on a farm in a small village called Baluti near Kotabagh. We planned to bus it from Manali > Chandigarh > Haridwar > Kotabagh > Baluti. After the nightmare we’d had on buses already we made sure we were on a proper tourist bus this time and were successful in that matter thankfully. We boarded the bus at night, Jimmy was pleased that he had plenty leg room and the AC was working. As we were leaving Manali the bus was pulled over by some very serious looking police, they boarded the bus and marched up and down the aisle looking everybody up and down very suspiciously. They shouted something in Hindi and left the bus after what felt like an eternity leaving us very confused. After 12 hours on the bus we arrived in Chandigarh and were dropped off in the middle of nowhere beside a group of rickshaw drivers. [funny that one eh?] We got one to the bus station after haggling for a while. We were lucky that the next bus was departing within the next half and hour but it was a local bus and we had to suffer the uncomfortable conditions again for another 8 hours.
When we arrived in Haridwar we could feel the heat when we stepped off the bus and the city craziness that we hadn’t missed whilst chilling in the mountains was in our faces again. We needed to decide our next step, take another 10 hour bus or spend the night in Haridwar? Eventually we decided that over 20 hours of travelling was enough for one day and we spent the night in Haridwar in a budget hotel near to the bus station.
That night we were lucky enough to witness Puja. Puja is a religious ritual where people give an offering to the gods, lighting candles and giving flowers via the Ganges.
We got what we paid for with our hotel again… Jimmy saw a mouse run into the room under the door and when he told one of the workers he told him every room has mice haha.
We woke up early to get our bus to Kotabagh and it was still quite dark, we headed to the bus station and were having a chai when we heard the guy from one of the buses shouting “Kota-kota-kota-bagh” as they do here. We boarded quickly and it was another local bus but surprisingly had plenty leg room. The journey was long and windy and we eventually reached our destination where we got a rickshaw to get another bus to Baluti. After reaching Baluti both our phones were powerless again so we went to a local shop where the man kindly let us charge our phone. He couldn’t speak English so was hard to communicate but we managed to contact Arun [the farm owner] and he arranged us a taxi. While we were waiting for the taxi Sara went to get something to eat and met some local kids. The language barrier was there but that didn’t stop them from having fun. Sara found out that her nickname Sarita is an Indian name because one of the girls was called the same. You could tell that the villagers didn’t see many tourists as all eyes were on us.
Our taxi picked us up and we drove deeper into the mountainous jungle until we reached Arun’s farm. The farm is in a small village which only has 5 houses and is surrounded by jungle, mountains and rice fields. We were greeted by a couple and a guy who were already at the farm and were joined later by a family [Russ, Sandrine, Nell & Lily] who were all really nice.
We decided to stay for a week and settle for a bit. The couple and the guy left shortly after we arrived so we had the farm to ourselves with the family and Arun. The closest we got to experiencing organic farming whilst there was weeding and Jimmy was lucky enough to plant some mango trees. We had to work two hours a day and then we could do whatever we liked, Sara was pleased to teach the cook some Spanish dishes and Jimmy and Russ painted the windows. When the day was over we used to sit outside and Arun would entertain us with his drunken drivel under the stars. During the day we would go on adventures to the river or to near by villages.
Jimmy and Russ were both passionate about photographing nature and would go looking for subjects to shoot. We seen huge spiders, lizards, monkeys, peacocks, eagles and countless insects and birds. We went for plenty walks and went for a swim in the river one day. The locals are really friendly here and would offer you lifts through the mountains, we got a lift from a scooter and a truck.
Even if we didn’t learn as much as we hoped to we still enjoyed our time at the farm very much, being so cut off from everything was a refreshing change from the madness of the cities. We appreciated Arun’s hospitality and we will never forget these days.
Now we were ready for our holiday touring Rajasthan…