Dhunwani Camp

An exciting Forest Village stay and work camp – October 2-3, 2009

With the last forest orientation camp in May 2009 a success, there were more swans and cygnets wishing to have a similar experience in this camp. Energy levels were riding high. Some swans who had left Bhopal during the year booked their tickets much in advance to participate in the camp. The Cygnets tried to complete their 7 days internship to participate in the camp. Overall it was an exciting preparation. 

The reason behind the excitement was also the fact that the participants would be able to witness a tribal dance fest and have a 3 day 2 moonlit night stay in the forest. Taking cue from the last camp, Ashish took responsibility of the registrations and collections, Praharsh took responsibility of the purchases, Shibani took responsibility of the tent house items and transport and Pradeep took responsibility of the forest end preparations.

However, some last minute sickness of a few because of weather change damped the excitement as the camp was cut down to 2 day 1 night stay compromising the tribal dance fest. Still with anxiety, excitement and energies running high, we decided to leave on 2nd Oct early morning.

Fareed bhai with his bus started dot time from the starting point picking up participants on the way and reaching the last pick up point at 6:30 am. The group of 40 finally left Bhopal around 7:15 am. With an Ayurvedic doctor Dr Tushar joining us on the way in his Maruti van, the road to Ratapani sanctuary echoed with songs, claps, cheers and hoots as the Swans played Antakshari all the way. The natural beauty around Chiklod was enchanting with plush greens and blue lagoons playing host to chirping cheerful birds and cattle. Somewhere midway we faced a roadblock as the bridge 50 metres ahead had collapsed and we were diverted to a rough road wending through the forest and villages, cruising alongside hills. Nature looked like a bride in full makeup and bridal attire, as we tried to absorb as much of its beauty through our eyes.

We finally reached Ghodapachar about 9 am. The 4 km drive into the natural forest was like riding in the lap of nature with a green canopy over our heads. As we closed in Neelgarh village, we could hear the sound of drums of the ongoing festival. At Neelgarh it was a different scene altogether with over 20 tribal villages converging for the festival giving the village a festive mela like look.

Golu, our friend from a neighbouring village was waiting for us with his tractor trolley and the tents provided by the forest department for our camp. After having some discussions with a few VIPs (who had come to witness the mela) over breakfast and a glimpse of the tribal dances, we shifted our belongings from the bus to the tractor trolley and moved on to Dhunwani village. 

Those who had never experienced a tractor trolley ride jumped into the trolley with great excitement. Hardly 50 metres on they realised what the 3 km ride would be like. While some girls shifted to the Maruti van, some boys prefered to walk instead. The rest braved the trolley ride. On the way we crossed 2 streams and patches of slushy mud when the trolley group had to push the van across.

After about an hour of back breaking ride, we reached Dhunwani village and parked ourselves in front of the primary school. While one group started shifting the luggage to the rooms, another started erecting the tents and the group of children went around exploring the village.

Most villagers had been to the tribal dance fest, so we had sufficient time in our hand to settle ourselves. Manisha took charge dividing the swans in groups that would take turn to wash utensils, cut vegetables, cook food, bring water, etc. The well was close by and the swans followed directions. By 2 pm everyone had finished their allotted work, had a swim in the nearby stream and were ready for lunch.

After a sumptuous meal, we all gathered under the tents to plan out our work for the evening and the next day. Harish and Abhijeet started preparing their Gobar Battery for the evening. Message was sent across to the villagers about the health camp

and people started assembling around dusk.

Being a moonlit night, it was good enough to see people around, until the Gobar batteries lit the rooms and a battery powered CFL lit the surroundings. Dr Tushar with his team struggled under torches in the van trying to do a health assessment of the villagers. The swans divided themselves in groups and started the mapping exercise with different age groups of villagers. Shibani, Manju got busy with cooking for dinner.
The mapping exercise went over 2 hours. Around 10 pm after the villagers left, we had our dinner and again assembled under the tent to summarize the mapping exercise and discussing the health profile of the village. Action plans were made for the next morning interaction.

Then it was time to call it a day. Tired and exhausted, the swans slept wherever they were. While the children and girls made themselves comfy in the classrooms, the boys slept under the tent. Some noisy ones slept inside the trolley and the van so that they do not disturb others. The snores of tired young swans resonated through the jungle enough to keep the wild animals at bay.

The next morning as dew drops and cock-a-doodle do woke everyone up, a bigger challenge faced them. Not used to answer nature's call in the wild, the swans struggled to find their comfort zones. When living the nature's way you realise the boundaries and barriers you have created around yourself. You also realise that life can be so easy and comfortable without these barriers. Dr Tushar and Mr Sharma left for Bhopal by the Van and were escorted upto Neelgarh by Golu and a few.

After a wash and breakfast, the swans divided themselves into groups taking the action plan forward, collecting water and soil samples from different points and doing a physical mapping of the village, while a group started deliberating on education with the school master and trying to identify the capable children for Navodaya. Hovering clouds threatened intermittently finally coming down in showers that had everyone scampering back to the base and also brought the tent down.
The lunch team had managed to prepare lunch by then and everyone had a sumptuous meal. After the rains we got our luggage back into the trolley and cleaned up the school and its surroundings. With the trolley experience over, everyone preferred to walk down to Neelgarh as it gave them a closer feel of the running stream and drench their feet. With so much natural beauty around, we did not realise when we had covered the 3 km stretch. Neelgarh looked like a war ravaged place with garbage thrown all around after the festivities. We shifted our luggage and tents from the trolley to the bus, and drove on to Ghodapachar.

With the tractor leading the way, the slushy mud after the rains made it difficult for the bus. While the bus skit and slipped, Fareed bhai was at his professional best trying to keep the bus on the road and from toppling over. At 3 points, the bus got stuck in the mud upto the axle. The swans were imaginative and experimental but guided by Fareed bhai in pushing the bus away from the mud and move on. The adidas and woodlands had doubled in weight covered with slushy mud. Finally around dusk, the swans broke into a cheer as the highway was visible and within a few minutes the bus had made it to the tar road.

Stamping feet removed all the extra load on the shoes and thanking the villagers, forest officials and our luck, we made our way back to Bhopal, singing along the way and remembering the time we spent in the camp.