Today, I was caught off-guard in the morning by the beginning of another adventure!
I had gone for breakfast to Usha Akka’s place. As I was washing my plate and cup after eating, Nageshji called me urgently from outside, so I dropped what I was doing and ran out to where he was. He asked me if I wanted to go to a village with him (that’s all he said!). He told me that I needed to come immediately, because he was about to leave. Luckily, I had a bag with me in which I keep my camera, a small mat to sit on (sometimes, you need a place to sit, but the ground is not clean enough or is too hot to sit on), and a book to read. Usha Akka told me not to worry about washing my dishes and to just go with Nageshji if I wanted to go. I did some quick thinking and decided that the opportunity I was getting right now might not come again. I told him I would come, and immediately ran out the door with Nageshji towards the street. A jeep full of official-looking people (including two police officers) picked us up and we were off!
Nageshji explained to me that we were going to a village about an hour away, east-southeast of Sringeri. The village is called Hanchinakodige (it’s as hard to pronounce as it looks, but I’ll try: HUN-chin-uh-CODE-ee-gay). Nageshji is the general secretary of the Sringeri branch of a group called Junior Chamber International, or JCI for short, through which this trip was organized. They were going to Hanchinakodige on a medical mission to perform a routine medical checkup of all the villagers. Nageshji invited me because he wanted me to see the beauty of the village. I too wanted to see the beauty of a village, but I did not know what to expect. Nonetheless, I was already on my way there, so I decided to wait it out and see for myself. Naturally, I was in for a real adventure…
People can only go to this village by jeep, because a motorcycle cannot go all the way there. The roads are totally gravel or dirt, and therefore one needs a more heavy-duty vehicle to get there. Nageshji and I were sitting in the back of the jeep, so we experienced the bumps the most. I had a great time, but I think Nageshji started getting annoyed by the bumpiness of the road and the dust that we were kicking up behind us. We had to close our windows to keep the dust from suffocating us. I wondered how the driver behind us was able to see where he was going! Throughout the ride, I watched the scenery outside, which was full of forests and mountains. I was immersed in the scene when the car suddenly stopped, and Nageshji said, “We’re here!”
At first I watched the medical team set up their stuff and delegate tasks that needed to be done, but I was relatively confused as to what I should do. Someone handed me a notepad and said, in Kannada, “Take note of everyone’s information.” I was kind of shocked, because I don’t know how to write in Kannada! I told the man (who looked very official) that I couldn’t write, and he said, “What? You can’t write in Kannada? Then what CAN you do?” I was kind of embarrassed, but luckily Nageshji came to my rescue and took the notepad from my hand. He said, “I’ll take care of that, you can go out and take a look at the scenery if you want to.”
I was a bit skeptical about the scenery because I couldn’t tell how much more (other than mountain and forest) there was to see. I didn’t really think there was more to it. We seemed to be on a hill, but I couldn’t quite make out which way I had to go to see anything. I took a chance and started up a random path, because none of the paths really seemed to lead anywhere special. But this was the closest one (and I only really had time to explore one path anyway), so I took it.
I thought I would go deeper into the forest, because it certainly seemed that way from looking at the path. I didn’t know how much further I should go for fear of either getting lost or bitten, but I made up my mind: I would go in as far as it took to reach some sort of destination. I decided that if I didn’t find anything after 15 minutes of walking, I would stop and turn around. I saw lots of trees on either side of the path, and it seemed like the forest went in on both sides for miles and miles. After a couple of minutes, I became acutely aware of how alone I was – all the villagers were at the medical camp to get their checkups, and Nageshji and the others were leading the mission. Therefore, there was nobody where I was, nor was there going to be anybody where I was headed. Nonetheless, I kept walking, and after a few more minutes reached a roadblock in front of me, with a small opening in the trees directly to my right.
To my absolute amazement, the opening of the trees led to a massive rice plantation valley, where there were countless little paddies that looked like stairs going down a huge hill. I was literally frozen there in wonder for a few minutes, because I could not believe that this was what I was seeing.
A forest that I thought went in for miles suddenly opens up to reveal perhaps the most beautiful hill I have ever seen, with a background of mountains! There was not a single hint that this was what lay ahead. I was not sure whether I should go in or not, but I decided that in order to make the best of this opportunity, I should just go for it. (This is where the adventurer’s spirit comes in.)
I entered the opening in the trees and took in the sight. The paddies on the hill were all dry; I was able to walk in them because there were no crops growing in them (though there were other random weeds). At the bottom of the hill, there were wet paddies with rice growing in them. I did not really know
what more to do, but then at the bottom of the hill to the right I saw a bright green patch (where I guessed there was more rice than in the other areas). I decided that I would somehow make my way down the hill and get a closer look.
Rice paddies have a small wall of dirt surrounding them, for the purpose of retaining water while the crop is growing. I walked along these walls, for they were the edges that connected one level of paddies to the next. I sort of jumped my way down the levels (which was no easy task – each level was deeper than the previous level by at least my height or more). Sometimes I found makeshift “stairs” dug out of the dirt, so I would use those to get down. This was not a time to be dangerous – wherever I had the option not to be, at least – because I did not want to be getting hurt where there was nobody around! And I was not prepared for this adventure – I was only wearing jeans and a t-shirt! Not to mention I had my small backpack on my back.
As I was making my way down, I came across a few interesting creatures, like these lizards that look like wall lizards, but move more like snakes.
As I would get near them, they would dodge this way and that, but if I stood still for a few seconds, they would start creeping back. I also came across a small opening on the side of the paddies where there were two mounds of hay and a few huts near each other. I figured these were where some of the villagers (the ones who attended to the paddies) lived. Their homes were in the middle of the forest that I saw as I was walking to this place! I imagined what it would be like to live there… What if the only thing you ever had to do was work in the fields, eat, and sleep? And when it came time to take the crop to the market, take it to the market, sell it for as long as it took to finish off, and then come back? What a peaceful life that could be! Of course, taking care of the fields is no easy task, but it would be really fun to live in a forest.
Oh, wait! I do live in a forest…
I made my way further down the paddies, and came to the bottom of the hill.
There was a large fence between the dry paddies on the hill and the wet ones in this valley, and I was on the dry side. I definitely accomplished my mission to get a closer look, but the fence was in the way. I wanted to get even closer. I started to look for a way in to the wet fields. As I was tracing the fence, I came across a small stream, from where, I noticed, all the water that was used to water the fields was coming. I reflected on the brilliant irrigation systems of ancient India that I had read about. Before there was any electricity or any modern technology, the ancient Indian people applied their own technological brilliance when it came to every aspect of life – whether it was agriculture, metallurgy, medicine, architecture, or any other field. I still cannot get over the fact that people used to live so close to nature and even used nature to live. For, how can we replicate something so brilliant as the human body? And yet, we are forgoing the genius and ability within our own bodies for the sake of computers and other “modern” technology. Why focus on a computer (which we all agree is brilliant) when we can focus on the thing that built the computer? Doesn’t it make sense that the maker is more able than the made? Naturally, in order for the maker to make something, he has to fully conceive of it first. Doesn’t that mean that there is much more than a computer can do, within our own heads? And then if we take a step even further back, why don’t we try to focus on the maker who made us?
My spirit led me to the end of the fence – where, I was thrilled to find, was an opening just big enough to fit through in order to enter the wet paddies! I entered without hesitation and walked around the paddies on the edges. It was perhaps one of the most dream-like experiences I have had because I was totally alone as I explored the vastness of these idyllic fields. This made me reflect some more – the greatest journeys we make, we make alone. No matter how many people are our friends, no matter how much money we have, no matter how many things we have, we will still have ourselves even when those things leave us. We should make friends with ourselves, for we are with ourselves more than we are with anyone else. Once you can make yourself the best company you have, the currents of people and things around you in the river of life will never sway you.
As I explored the valley to my heart’s content, I realized that I was almost out of time! I had to somehow climb all the way back up the dry paddies and make it back to the medical camp and Nageshji in a few minutes. So I ran back through the wet paddies to the hill and half-jumped, half-climbed my way up through the walls of paddies like some kind of rugged adventurer and found myself rather quickly at the top of the hill. I looked back down and was amazed to find that I made it up so far in no time. And again, I took a minute to just soak in the sight that was in front of me before making my way back to the camp.
I jogged my way back to where Nageshji was, and when I got there he said, “Where were you? I was worried about you!” I told him of my adventure, and he was quite amazed – he said, “I didn’t mean for you to go that far!” It was lunchtime, so we proceeded to where lunch was being served. I was a bit nervous about trying the village’s water, but Nageshji reassured me by telling me it was the same kind of water that they drink at his house. I tried the water, and I was shocked – this water was even better than the water at Nageshji’s place! It was purer, which was amazing. I had actually never tasted such water before. I didn’t understand how this was possible, but there it was. The water that these villagers drink is purer than the water that we drink near the city! I concluded (and made a mental note) that purity of water does not depend upon the filtering process that it has gone through (or where it is served). One should understand that the purity of water is not dependent upon some standard FDA-approved process. People used to drink water before the FDA came into being, and people will continue to drink water even after it ceases to exist. So why should we always depend upon someone else to tell us when things are good or bad? We should find out for ourselves. Don’t let yourself be fooled into believing that which you are told all the time: do some research, find out for yourself what you are eating, drinking, using, discarding. Each person should be a storehouse of knowledge in him or herself; we should not become the slaves of a system that we ourselves give the power to direct us and tell us what to do, especially when we know that the system is not perfect. We blindly follow the trends of our society in food, fashion, transportation, household items, medicine, and so many other things, even if we don’t know whether or not it’s right. We should not give up our power so easily! If each person starts thinking for him or herself, we may develop our society exponentially faster than we are developing now. Does that sound like a bad deal?
We came back after lunch to Nageshji’s place, from where I walked back to my room. What an adventurous and enlightening day! I am constantly reminded how much there is left to learn about life and living, and how little time I have left here in Sringeri. I hope to take as many lessons back with me as I can when I return to the world I came from. Perhaps by attempting to live a life of awareness and righteousness in a world troubled by ignorance and corruption, I might help inspire others to try?