Off to the Mountains

Thursday morning found us at Delhi airport – this time to fly to Dehradun. Time for more school visits. We were told that most people wouldn’t fly for such a short time (less than an hour) but the plane was full. You should drive (that would endure too much queasiness for sure) or you should catch the train (possible – but not for 5 hours). Flying over we were amazed at the landscape  … first the flatness of Delhi and then the dry river beds weaving in and out of the rising landscape as we approached Dehradun. Then it was a drive up towards Mussoorie at the foothills of the Himalayas but to get there we had to go over windy and narrow roads which were sometimes barely wide enough for one car even through it was a two way traffic road. And more than once a boulder was on the roadway! This is an amazing landscape!

The National Book Trust of India has organised a number of school visits for me here in India … and the first was two hours after landing at Dehradun. This was at Jaswant Modern School part of the “Ghummakkad Narain” Travelling literature festival. Thanks to the students who listened so intently and asked great questions and to the teachers who stayed behind for a chit chat with me … there are pictures of me lounging on the sofa but I was really in deep conversation with the staff.

But no sooner had we started than all was done and we were rushing into the car for a drive up rather crazy (I would call treacherous in parts) road with hairpin bends, oncoming traffic on a one lane road, boulder covered roadway with non existent safety fences and definitely no roadwork signs, to Oak Grove Railway School, up in the foothills of the Himalayas … who would have thought we would be here in the foothills! There was a thin covering of mist enveloping the valley. An evening session had been organised with some of the senior students — those who were not doing exams the following day, and for me the highlight was when one of the students read water – in Hindi as I read in English … and he mimicked my enunciations too!!

We were given a room in the ‘Rest House’ for the night … the same room where other dignitaries and even politicians have stayed. We were treated like kings and queens (or super railway stars). everything was available and nothing was too much trouble and the freshly made food … delicious and scrumptious and very Indian. Unfortunately for Bini there was a bit too much spice and chilli (not a spice) in the no spice / chilli dishes. Tea with biscuit nad and a saucer of sugar was in our room straight away. Our accommodation was unique. The mattress was thin, the bed solid, the shower a bucket and cup. We had a wipe down that evening! It was a little restless sleep but the morning certainly made up for it. Waiting to greet us was a thick covering of mist, and on the fence posts outside our balcony, where newel posts would not be out of place, were posts with macaques sitting not the top! They watched and stared almost as long as I did at them until they finally decide to jump onto the arching trees and down into the valley. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine waking up in the foothills of the Himalayas!

After breakfast we were invited to inspect the campus, which ended up with me speaking to senior boys and girls in the senior school and then to each of the classes in the junior school … and after my telling of Sounds Spooky in each class the teachers found it impossible to settle the students. I caused more than a little chaos. All over the world students love to be scared and spooked! And the giggles and laughter as I left each room was enthralling. The students here are immaculately dressed, have impeccable manners, and their sung and /or chanted welcomes were beautiful. The students here are boarders and we were able to sneak into their spotless dorms with their coloured blankets, the hooks with coats and clothes, the lockers, wash sinks and cubicles of shoes that are regularly cleaned by the ‘help’. The students attending this school are all from railway families and entrance exam process is intense. The executive director of the railways Prempal Sharma was also present.

On the way back to the airport my final visit was to attended the Royal Indian Military college – spit and polish all through. immaculate grounds, students, boots, and uniforms, with a few scattered pieces of military memorabilia as well. Finally we made it back to our hotel and a glorious sleep in our soft and cosy bed which was preceded by a full-on loooong hot shower!

And when Saturday came we were out! But not before one more school!

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