TRAVEL: IT AIN'T HALF HOT MUM!; My brush with danger - by the boy who went to India.
Last year Paul Shaw, a 16-year-old pupil at Queen Mary's Grammar School in Walsall, took up the Fulcrum Challenge - an adventure trip offered to A-level students. After a Krypton Factor-like selection weekend involving pupils from all over the UK, he travelled to Northern India to swap cultures with the people who live there.
Here's how it went.
WE arrived in Delhi tired but excited.
Dragging our kitbags and rucksacks, we checked into a smart hotel - but any thoughts of a comfortable night's sleep were quickly dashed.
After a wash, a snack and a quick game of cards, we were off into the night in open-top Jeeps, through the hustle and bustle of downtown Delhi.
Eleven at night and the place was buzzing.
Every 100 yards or so, there was a soldier with a gun. Was there a need for such tight security? Were we going to be safe?
We travelled through the night. None of us slept, but at least we were able to get to know each other better.
The terrain was breathtaking, but it contrasted sharply with the horrendous stench from some of the poorest villages. I was struck by how many people were sleeping rough on the side of the road.
Our journey took us to Tanakpur where we stayed overnight. It turned out to be quite an adventure.
We'd all been having a kickabout on the top of a small hill when the ball went over the side. My schoolmate Loz and I went to retrieve it. At the bottom, I saw something moving in the bushes.
We quickly retrieved the ball and scampered back up the hill. Later we discovered that a tiger had been heard and paw prints found in the area where we'd been.
Our next stop was Chapawat where we were invited into the houses of the villagers. I was struck by how little these people have, yet they are so generous and give freely.
In return, we played our guitars and sang to the schoolchildren. They grinned and clapped.
Then we challenged the locals to a game of cricket... and lost, miserably.
The night before we departed Chapawat, Westie - a boy from my school - had his bag stolen, containing our passports. The local police were called and what followed upset everyone in our group.
Two men were singled out. Because they weren't locals, it was presumed that they must have stolen the bag. They were made to stand with their arms outstretched and were beaten mercilessly.
We had to walk away because the violence was sickening.
Later on in the trip, I had to return to the police station and met the policeman who had administered the beating. He offered his hand to be shaken. Both Westie and I declined.
On to Devi Dhura. Six hours of weaving in and out of the mountains taking in the sights. On the way, a local newspaper took our photograph - we were fast becoming celebrities.
Here is the home of Jim Corbett who, in the late 1800s, became a famous tiger hunter.
On this particular day, I spotted a Lamagar bird which has a wing span of 11 feet. It was gliding and, with the backdrop of the Himalayas, it was truly awesome. Part of my project was to spot unusual birds and keep a record. By the end of the trip I had compiled a list of 76.
We split into smaller groups and, taking a Sherpa along to interpret, we visited families in their homes. This was an opportunity to study their culture closer.
What aspirations did their children have? What did the family eat? What kind of education do the children receive?
Chatting to them, I quickly realised how cut off and remote these people were. They'd never heard of anyone famous from the western world.
In the months leading up to the trip, we had collected toys and clothes for the children.
As we handed them out, the joy at seeing the little ones chatting and playing turned to sadness when one of our interpreters told us that many children in these remote villages were not expected to live past the age of five.
At Mehla we met an old crooked lady, crippled so badly with chronic back problems that her spine was curved. Her husband had died and because of her disability she was an outcast from the village and lived in a remote house on the hillside.
We gave her clothes. She was overwhelmed but embarrassed, as she had nothing to offer us in return. If we returned next year when her goats were milking, she promised to give us some to thank us for our kindness.
We travelled like this for 14 days, visiting many small villages, experiencing such abject poverty it is hard to describe. We entertained where we could and helped when we were able to.
The day before our journey home we all went swimming in a river. It was a stupid thing to do.
Every one of us became ill, even the doctor who was travelling with us, and the nine-hour flight home seemed endless.
The Fulcrum Challenge was a fantastic experience, but very humbling. Meeting so many different people and learning about their culture was invaluable but made me think very deeply about their plight.
I must confess I've felt restless since I've returned home - and hope to go back to India soon.
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|Publication:||Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)|
|Date:||Jan 20, 2002|
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