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I undertook Project High>>>Ways 2006 as a…
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 Project High>>>Ways  entered in Limca Book of  Records - 2007 (India) as  first Mother Daughter Duo  to link adventure drive with  Cancer Awareness
 Programme across the  country.
 
 
 
Project Diary    

How many of us think ' Let me pack up and leave, I want to explore the world ' - All of us it seems tend to do so at some point in our lives! How many of us actually go ahead and do it- Very few!!

For some, the thought seems an unattainable dream but for some it’s the beginning of an adventure where one follows one’s heart and one can do everything one dreamt of. Landscaping one’s dreamscape becomes a mission.

 

One such vision was waiting to become a reality for me in Nov. 2005. I celebrated my fifth year of post-cancer by driving 5130km in 19 days to the Kuttch area of Gujarat along with Ms.Tista Joseph (my 14-yr-old daughter)

I had been wanting to drive across India by myself (solo), crossing the highest passes to the remotest corners to hold Cancer Awareness Camps

Through this roller coaster adventure drive I wanted to motivate cancer patients and survivors to drive on the High >>> Ways of life exploring their inner strengths and spirits. I wanted to instill hope in all to celebrate health and life specially those who were touched by this illness.

The mission was to conduct Awareness Camps on Breast, Oral and Cervical Cancers. Personal interaction and dispelling myths being focal to the project along with teaching self examination and information/material dissemination regarding the disease to the far flung areas.

Thus began the journey with the germ of a thought and a vision – Project High >>> Ways –which, we decided to take forward in the form of a nationwide drive.

With support from Women’s Cancer Initiative – Tata Memorial Hospital Mumbai as sponsors; Ford Motors providing the wheels (a Ford Endeavor Everest); Hindustan Petroleum fuelling the mission, a six month project began which culminated in the 3rd Asia Pacific ‘Reach to Recovery’ International Breast Cancer support Conference on 06/Nov/2006 at the Hilton Towers, Mumbai.

The ‘highway Duo’ –

On the driver’s seat - Dr. (Mrs.) Ritu Biyani Joseph is spearheading this solo drive across India, with the concept of linking adventure sport with an awareness campaign This dental surgeon and an avid photographer, is an adventurer by heart, who loves challenges and never misses an opportunity to cheer other cancer patients. Has scaled mountains, Para-trooped and sky-dived and In the past 3 years she has driven a total of 40,000 kms cross country in India & Bhutan. She was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in September 2000.

On the co-drivers seat -Ms. Tista Joseph, 14 yrs old, a student of St Mary’s school Pune. This young Navigator of the drive, is a budding photographer and has keen interest in social, environment and wildlife issues. Adapts smoothly into all walks of life. . Has seen her mother through the illness and bonds well with families of suffering patients. Has decided to spend her entire summer vacation with the mission.

Ms Vandana Natu-breast cancer survivor, a total stranger to me as well as a novice in adventure field,and a non driver she volunteered to join on the suggestion of Mrs.Shubha from cpaa. She is a writer and has been working for an ad agency for the last 10 years.


Project
High >>> Ways – the story so far

April 1st

No April fool this is! Chose the perfect day to start the campaign!!

On April 1, 2006 we were flagged off from Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai amidst a lot of cheering and support from the main catalyst Dr. R.A. Badwe (Surgical Oncologist TMH), Dr. Dinshaw (Director TMH), Deveika Bhojwani (VP- Women’s Cancer Initiative, Tata Memorial Hospital), Suniel & Manna Shetty and loads of friends and family.

An unscheduled 2 day halt at Pune became inevitable to give the last moments finishing touches and pack up respective houses and short circuit all long pending jobs as I would be out for the next six months.

 

Maharashtra (04/04/06 – 06/04/06)

 

Lord Ganapati [Ganesha] blesses the crew –

Nothing better than an auspicious start. My father, Prof. R.S. Biyani, broke the first coconut and a small prayer was performed for everyone’s safety as the vehicle steered out of Pune at 8:00am on 04 April 2006. With blessings from Lord Ganesha at Ranjangaon- around 9:30am, the ‘High >>> Ways’ got moving.

The first stop was at Ahmednagar at around 11:45am where a small impromptu camp was held for the families and employees of Rajdeep Group of companies. This was the foundation of all the camps to come. We showed only the symptoms and risk factors on charts here.Ahmednagar-Aurangabad-Akola was the route taken and a night halt at Akola closed the day.

Ahmednagar-Aurangabad-Akola was the route taken and a night halt at Akola closed the day.

Karanja Cluster -

On the way to Nagpur (05 April) just after a lovely lunch of Rotis and daal at a dhaaba, all were quite relaxed and looking forward to an early evening at Nagpur. Just as the reverie and aroma of the recent lunch was settling down, I saw a group of around 500-600 women from the corner of my eyes, right next to the Highway. They were holding some sort of demonstration.. By the time my eyes could move around, there was a quick exchange of affirmation between Tista and us.. It was like a pre planned automatic affirmative nod from both while I swerved the car back to the group.

Within minutes, we were immersed in the sea of ‘molakarin sanghatan’ (Domestic helps organization) at the Highway in Karanja (Ghatge), Maharashtra. Again an impromptu and one of the biggest congregations of women among the entire lot. What was supposed to be a 15 minute invasion into their meeting turned out to be a full fledged 1.5 hours camp. With the help of Flip boards, charts and facts and figures – the risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and socials issues were explained to all.Around 50 women came up with complaints of lumps and others problems. There was a lot of anger among them as they felt that most of the screening camps conducted by most people were highly ineffective as they were rarely followed up.

Around 50 women came up with complaints of lumps and others problems. There was a lot of anger among them as they felt that most of the screening camps conducted by most people were rarely followed up.

Nagpur

We reached Nagpur- the ‘city of oranges’ by 5:30pm and parked ourselves at Orange City Hotel, arranged by our friend Mr.Hemant Peshkar. Another friend Mr. Milind had arranged for the Sports Federation Team to meet and encourage us. Its so surprising how when everyday friends help you out in foreign lands, the bonds of friendship grow into respect and become more valuable.A press conference was also arranged for us by our friends with knickknacks and tea.Vandanas dear friend, Mr. Hemanth Peshkar had arranged for the stay. Ritus dear friend Mr. Milind had arranged for the Sports Federation Team to meet and encourage them.
Its so surprising how when everyday friends help you out in foreign lands, the bonds of friendship grow into respect and become more valuable.

After all were gone, we settled down in the comforts of the hotel, with ‘face packs’. For me it was a long drive in the April heat, and after all the previous weeks running around and activities and excitement, I crashed into a deep slumber.

Next morning (06/04/06) was refreshing . An early departure was a must as I had been instructed by my family members not to be on the roads after dark Also as a rule, I liked to start the drive just as dawn clears the night’s veil. Those couple of morning hours are cool, and the roads too are less congested with traffic. A rule that became very difficult to abide by, as our new novice member couldn’t seem to adjust to this fact.

Nagpur remains an integral part of my growing up because it was here I did my Dentistry from Govt.Dental College and Hospital from1976 to 1981.

Just when we were to leave the city, I threw a question to the slumbering Tista – Why is Nagpur so important in Indian Geography-- Tista rightly answered that it was the Zero Mile centre of India. That’s it!! We just needed a reason. Now the hunt for the zero milestone began and they finally left Nagpur by 12 noon after taking a proud photograph with the esteemed marker. So much so for an early departure!!!.

We were soon gaining a reputation of being a very well meaning but a half mad team.


Madhya Pradesh - The Wild Side (06/04/06 – 09/04/06)
 

On the same day, Kanhan Coal City and Pench Tiger Reserve (Seoni, M.P.) later we were at Kanha National Park. We were getting late so had to skip the ‘Pench Tiger Reserve’. Didn’t really know what was in there but boards like ‘Kiplings Court’ made us resolve (specially the die hard environmentalist Tista) to come back there later in life and give it its due.

We met Mr. Subhash,Rahul- the Manager and his brother at the Kanha Pugmarks Resort. They were kind enough to help us in our mission by taking the worries of stay

and food away. In the evening all plans for the forthcoming camps were discussed. Two camps were held in the next two days– the Mocha & Khatiya villages were covered and people from the village of Kanha Kisli attended too.

Quite contrary to our belief (that Kanha being a famous National park with lot of tourist movement, the villagers must be quite ‘with it’ as far as their commercial needs and fulfillments were concerned) they were very simple and committed towards keeping Kanha’s ecological balance intact. It was sad to see that a National park of this stature did not have its own resident doctor. Our camps were met with a bit of a resistance in the beginning but as it progressed women opened up and were asking straight questions instead of the regular round about ways. I had started improvising and adding local flavor to the interaction and all it needed was the first burst of laughter then it would sail smoothly. We were also getting used to group dynamics and modifying our talks as per the needs.

We spent one day venturing into the park and keeping in tradition with Tista’s claim that ‘Big cats have plotted something against her’. She was sure of not seeing them even if she went to ‘Serengeti‘, we saw one and all “(including a sloth bear) but not the big cats.

Also saw ‘Baiga’ dance in the evening and slept early as we had a long day the next day.

 

Chhattisgarh (09/04/06 - 10/04/06)


After 2 days in Kanha we moved into Raipur in Chhatisgarh on 09/06/06.

A visit to the Bhoramdeo Siva stone temple built in 11the century AD (in the reign of Naga Vamsi kings) on the way to Raipur is a must. It is called the ‘Khajuraho of Chhatisgarh’. It was almost 3:30pm and there was hardly anything nearby except a small shop that kept peanuts and colas which saved the hungry souls.

Raipur was included in the itinerary only because Mr. Prakash whom we had met in Tata Hospital Mumbai and had insisted that we stop there as we ‘pass by’ through the city. It was to be a stop over but it turned out to be much more than that as when we reached Raipur and met them, they all landed up where we were to stay and we did an ad hoc camp.

A press meet in the morning was followed by lunch. Someone informed us that there was a lady who had cancer which had now recurred. We went to meet her. It was our first interaction like this outside Pune. She was so happy to see us and insisted that once she was out of treatment, she would definitely join us.

 

Orissa (11/04/06)


We entered the Badrama Ghats – a long range of low mountains. They were our first ghats after the Sahayadris. Sahayadris were like home. After the regular clicking of milestones, we moved onto enjoying the greens.

But at around 12:15 pm on 11/04/06 in the Kanjipani Ghat, appx. 38 kms from Keonjhar, a truck hit us from behind.and Crrassh. Without even looking behind I knew that the rear windscreen had shattered. It was quite a shock to us as we had just begun our journey but I were determined to not let anything stop us at all. Not only did it hit us but its driver overtook and harassed us for about the next 15 kms by overtaking, dangerously side cutting and not letting us go past.

Then began the long chase, ending up at Keonjhar District Police headquarters only to be told that we had to come back all the way to Kanjipani to file an FIR. Luckily Mr. Vijay Kumar Pradhan the Station-in-charge at the Kanjipani police station helped a speedy filing of FIR.

After all this we sat back to take stock and found that the backdoor was badly damaged and the windscreen fully smashed. Only the curtains were holding strong.. It was impossible to continue like that as the car was packed! Then began the marathon telephones to the Ford company. It was not like being in a city with instant connectivity. There was no network in the Ghats section and the nearest landline was about 35 kms away.

All the concerned persons at the Ford Motors India from Mr. Siva. To Mr. Rashid to Ms. Ravinder were extremely helpful as they quickly tied up with people from Jamshedpur (appx. 220 kms away from the accident site) to get the repairs done in the night.

I finally took a detour from our itinerary to land up in Jamshedpur at midnight minus the rear windscreen.

Here, I had to break the promise of not driving in the night specially in the isolated and forested region that it was-but there was no choice.

 

Jharkhand (12/04/06 – 13/04/06)


I was so relieved to see the service engineer of Ford waiting for us at midnight and so oblivious to what was coming – 12/04/06

The ODI cricket match between India and England was to be held in Jamshedpur the next day.

With no food, no sleep we began the hunt for a roof for the night. Three women, in the middle of the night, in an unknown city, were looking for a hotel. Not a single room was available! Never cursed Cricket as much as we did that day. Exasperated, the Ford Engineer – a young bachelor who was helping us find a place said ‘Mam if finally you can’t find a place, just come to my house and crash from the night. But I am a bachelor so you will have to excuse the messes. We thanked him for the offer but found a hotel which had been inaugurated that very day!!! Didn’t even bother to check the rent rates…just took the room and dropped dead on the beds! I had been driving non-stop since 6 a.m. For the record, the dinner comprising of tomato sandwiches took 1.5 hours to come!

 

West Bengal (13/04/06 – 17/04/06) Assam (18/04/06 – 22/04/06)


From Jamshedpur we traveled to Bholpur, Siliguri, Guwahati, Kaziranga, Jorhat, Dibrugarh and so on. Holding camps, making new friends and admiring nature.

On 20/04/06 a camp at Hathikhuli Tea Estate in the Tea garden near Kaziranga was conducted at a short notice. A lot of small camps took place when we just walked up to people and told them that we wanted to just talk to them. By now I had developed a better co-ordination with Tista and Vandana. I could handle diverse queries by the locals with ease.

The trip through Kaziranga National Park made it clear that Tista’s vision of becoming a wildlife Vet wasn’t just all talk, it had much more to what met the eye. She would spend her spare time just chatting up with mahaouts learning about Elephants. Knowing that the best Elephant trainer & Mahaout in India was a woman named Parvati from the nearby village was a proud moment.

We got to attend the Ganesh Pooja too where 30 elephants mingled with people like it was a mela and they had come to visit.

Due to the geographical features Assam & West Bengal were two states we would be frequenting while completing the North-Eastern circuit as one has to keep entering and exiting these states often.

 

Arunachal Pradesh (22/04/06 – 24/05/06)


Arunachal Pradesh was a first for all of us. I steered the Ford Endeavor into Arunachal on 22/04/06 via Dibrugarh in Assam. It was an exciting prospect for me as this was virgin territory for me. Our fourth member Ishani Roy from Mumbai, who was to be with us for the next twenty days joined us here.

I had been in touch with Mr. Prashant Lokhande, DC of Lohit & Anjaw districts AP through Mr. P. Ligu, Director Tourism, Arunachal Pradesh for all the networking about our stay and holding the camps. He and his Wife Dr. Chaitali extended all the support we would ever need in the whole state. When I was with this committed couple, I felt that it was possible to impact people’s lives positively through the power invested in the Indian Administrative Service.

We stayed at Namsai for the first night followed by hectic next two days with 5 consecutive camps in Namsai, Mahadevpur, Lathao, Chongkham & Wakro. Being close to the Assam border Namsai & Mahadevpur had a lot of Boro & Deori tribes. The rest had more of the local Mishmi tribes.

The Deori tribes came all dressed up to the camp as they had to rush for the festival dances after the camp. Their hurry to leave was quite evident but as the interaction kept growing, they forgot all about it. Deeply engrossed they realised only at the end and they made their bus wait till the camp ended. To make up for the delay, they started dancing in the hall itself, not sparing all of us either. We all danced and were a big happy family.

All were welcome to come to the camp so we had a lot of people who were suspected of some other disease came from far flung areas. In the course of these camps we saw cases of extreme deterioration of personal health including some with symptoms beyond imagination. A quick list was made and given to the DC who had promised us to follow up with anyone we felt needed assistance. I realized that the number of undetected cases make up for a lot of the missing statistics.

We got very little time to see the place but managed to see the Namsai Priyattisasana Buddhist Vihara and Buddhist Monastries at Chongkham (Thamoon Sutongpe Stupa). Unlike their Tawang counterparts these had a lot of Burmese and Thai influence. We did manage a quick run to the Parashuram Kund on our way to Tezu. That is one place one should go and sit for sometime and be with oneself. The river Lohit is an amazing companion for thoughts.

On 26/04/06 we had two camps. First at Loiliyang and then next at the district headquartes at Tezu. Tezu happens to be the district where the first sunrays of the millennium in the world fell in ‘Dong’. A tiny village by the name of ‘Kahao’ which is the easternmost village of India, is a place worth a visit too.

Most importantly, our hosts Mrs. & Mr. Lokhande were based in Tezu. They were very concerned for us as the roads ahead were treacherous and seeing a lady drive, they wanted to provide me with a driver. I promptly refused as this was my solo drive and I these were my adventurous moments, come what may. Lots of discussions later it was finally decided to take his driver whom we fondly called ‘Thapa ji’ - not to drive but just to be there. Initially restless and shy sitting in the backseat, which I guess all drivers become when made to sit behind, I observed him through the rear view mirror, gradually relaxing and enjoying being driven by me. As I found out later, he was loved by one and all and his ‘shut eye laughter’ was quite famous with Tista & Ishani.

Next morning on 27/04/06 I set out to touch the north easternmost tip and ‘the land of the rising sun’ which was still a day away.

On the way to Quibang ‘Udayak Pass’ at 1544 mts was the first pass I crossed in this expedition. As the Ford Endeavour zipped past in the hills, it was the most thrilling experience as having a good vehicle in a difficult terrain is anyone’s dream come true.

The first night halt was to be at Walong curtsey Bihar military regt.Walong happens to have a lot of historical value in the history of Indian Defense forces as the Chinese had managed to come till there and were fearlessly opposed by the Indian soldiers in the battle of Walong Oct/Nov 1962. The War Memorial situated by the river Lohit says –

Asleep in the Mishmi Hills

The sentinel hills
That round us stand
Bear witness that
We loved our land

Admist shattered rock
And Flaming Pine
We fought and died
On Namti Plain

O Lohit gently by us glide
Pale stars above softly shine
As we sleep here
In sun and rain

Penned by Mr. Bernard S. Douglas – DC Lohit district in 1965

On 28/04/06 the expedition vehicle wheeled onto the last motorable road in the north easternmost part of India – Kibithu. Across the fence were the Chinese peaks.

A camp was held there with the help of army.

Next back at Kibithu, on 29/04/06 we trekked for 3-4 kms to reach ‘Kahao’ & ‘Dong’– the last village on the eastern tip of India. It was an easy trek with Tista, aseasoned trekker zipping past all of us, followed by Ishani inspite of her knee problem, followed by me. I had to slow my speed as Vandana was already in huffs and puffs and lagging far behind the good part was we were escorted by the soldiers. Kahao has nine families and a total of appx. Thirty people living there.

It was a proud moment to hold an awareness camp there. The families were extremely responsive and even invited all for a traditional lunch.

As if straight out of the Bollywood movie ‘Swades’, the tiny village had its own mini – hydel (a hydro-electric power generator) and could take care of all its electricity needs. Manned by the locals, it made them extremely self reliant.

On 01/05/06, a camp was organized at Walong by the Civil Authorities. Just before the camp I was called by some locals to meet a bed ridden patient - a mishmi (tribe) girl in her house. Her condition was a living example of apathy and how if not taken care of initial, small things like pustules can take a terrifying magnitude. Inspite of the Army and the Public health Agencies providing her the required medicines, a simple effort of cleaning the wounds were not taken care off leading to partly choking of her ears, nose, eyes and mouth too inspite of seeing many a caese ,I was prepared to see this type. Quickly removing her 1 year old baby away from her, and giving through instructions on admitting her immediately and getting her wounds cleaned, and putting her on I'v fluids, we later moved on to hawai.


Hawai is a beautiful town situated on a plateau on top of a hill. Surrounded by mountains and the Lohit rive flowing down, its seems like a place straight of a story book.

Hayuliang was the next stop on 02/05/06 for the next camp followed by Tezu on 03/05/06 after which the mission headed for Roing in Lower Dibang Valley where a camp was held on 04/05/06. This was the first time I had ever driven a vehicle over dry river beds and through shallow rivers which are known to be flooded during the monsoons..

Lower Dibang Valley is famous for the scenic Myodia Pass and Hunli from where you can see Brahmaputra. It wasn’t difficult to find out why people wanted to come back there again and again. l slept lightly that night as the next day was a big day.

Crossing the mighty Brahmaputra

Getting up early on 05/05/06 I was surprised to find the whole team ready before me.Later.i was told,all efforts were towards keeping my nerves calm and maintaining an encouraging atmosphere as I was to maneuver this huge vehicle over two planks of wood onto a local ferry , with the voluminous Brahmaputra flowing below. For the kind information of the readers .I am a non swimmer….and only I know what was the surge of adrenaline within my body, in those moments.

Rolling smoothly over 8” planks, I managed it with finesse fit only for seasoned experts. Once everyone was safely aboard. Including the vehicle, the locals and the onlookers who had collected to see ‘a woman drive’ cheered


The team (Dr. Ritu, Vandana, Tista & Ishani) with vehicle aboard on Brahmaputra

and a big smile flashed on my face. The cameras got rolling to capture this precarious moments.. Once the ferry set in motion, Elvis and Rang de basanti took over and we danced wild to the songs while also recording the savage journey from excitement to craziness on the video.

On reaching the other end, a very relieved me got talking to the boatmen and in no time we were doing a camp for them. We had crossed Assam once again to get back into Arunachal.

Admist fun frolic and unplanned camps we reached Pasighat.

Pasighat saw the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh Mr. Gegong Apang pay a flying visit to the team at the Siang Guest House. He wished the team all the very best over a cup of tea and expressed his gratitude.

Pasighat, Rayang, Sille had three camps. Rayang was the smallest camp ever as it was over dinner that the host family expressed the wish that we take them through our presentation.

We were presented with a white blanket each by Mrs. Yamik Dulom - their Liason Officer from DMO office. She and her daughters had knit them. It was much later when we found out that a hand knit white blanket was the highest regard anyone could pay in the Adi tribe. The Addl.District Commissioner [ADC] of Pasighat, Mrs. Sadhna Deori helped us in our further contacts for Along. She honoured us by presenting the Local hand-woven’ gale’ [long skirt like wraparounds].which we enjoyed wearing at many other camps in Arunachal Pradesh.


Along camp was a short one as most of the participants were from the medical background and it wasn’t difficult explaining things to them.

Along proved to be the key to a Treasure Island as it was the gateway to a place each and every member of the team will want to come back to.

Mechuka – 180 kms from Along is an unexplored heaven waiting to be discovered by the die hard travelers. Not for the faint hearted, the drive to Mechuka is a tough one. Surrounded by snow capped mountains and the distinct housing architecture makes it a painted landscape. Not to forget the fluttering Buddhist prayer flags (Mompa population are in majority) and the ever so beautiful Gompa [monastery]. It could easily pass off as a European countryside if it wasn’t for the Buddhist influence and oriental features.

Sad that it was a touch and go situation as we had only one and a half day to Reach-See-Return from Mechuka. Feeling guilty that we could not do a camp there, I requested the ADC and the ‘Border Roads Organisation’ to help arrange something for us even though it meant reaching Along at midnight taking the treacherous road. He obliged. Camps at Mechuka and Segong were hurried but very productive .Here again I had to break my promise of not driving at night, but we were rewarded with the rare sighting of the Red Panda in the wild.

Capital city Itanagar had organized a big camp through the State Women’s Commission. It also gave and opportunity for the team to spend and evening with the Governor His Excellency S. K. Singh. Another evening well spent was when the Lamas at Thuptan Gatsuling Gompa invited the team for dinner and cooked while sharing the daily life routine with them.

The team reached Tenga on 17/05/06.where my paratrooper colleague with whom I was intouch prior to the start of the journey, Maj. Jolly took care of our logistics. The bond of the maroon beret is very strong and well I was a paratrooper during my army service.


With Governor Arunachal – HE Shri S. K. Singh

It was a poignant moment as Ishani Roy who had become a part of the team had to go back to Mumbai as her College was starting. Ishani and Tista had become close friends and to see them brave it, was heart wrenching. On 18/05/06 Ishani was safely sent back to Mumbai while the original trio continued to Tawang crossing the SELA PASS.
   

At China Border on 20/05/06 – Bumla, Arunachal Pradesh

Another significant destination was – Bumla on 20/05/06. With Tawang as a base and supported by the Army from Tenga, the gang headed for Bumla. A snowbound area at 15,500 feet, Bumla was the highest pass the expedition had been to in Arunachal Pradesh. Another vital fact is that it is on the LOC[Line of control] . One can cross over into China for a few feet and when one looks back, a bold ‘Welcome to India’ makes one’s heart swell up with pride.

‘Mama, the snow looks the same on both sides of the LOC, so do the mountains, the lakes and the entire landscape. The fog travels from one country to another so do

the birds fly- without any passport. Then why do we human beings make these demarcations and even fight for the land? Isn’t it so silly? Tista asked me….I directed her to the young Captain who was guiding us to the location and soon I could hear both of them having a sort of debate over the issue. Childhood-so blissful and naïve.

One of the eye catching feature is the presence of Maratha Ground and a ‘Chhatrapati Shivaji Marg’ at 12,400 feet in the middle of nowhere on the way to Bumla. The Maharashtrian connection made everyone smile and move on.

After a camp for the defense personnel and their families back at Tenga. It was time to leave Arunachal Pradesh. It was a very emotional time for all of us. As the last of the hills were coming to an end and the Assam Plains were in view we just wanted to turn the vehicle around and go back to Arunachal. It seemed like a home after spending more than a month there. As is always a case with me, I left a piece of my heart in the folds of the eastern Himalayas. Some day I might come back to explore this paradise again.

After a days break in Tezpur the journey continued to Meghalaya.

 

Meghalaya (25/05/06 – 31/05/06)


Meghalaya was another story. We did 4 camps in Shillong at the Assam regimental Center then at Gorkha Training Centre .The initial hesitation and the rank hierarchy vanished in minutes when I started playing games actually meant for the bastis and villagers and soon realized that all you need to get across to people is a heart that wants to communicate, never mind the language, caste or creed. The monsoons were at its peak and it became difficult not only to hold the camps but even getting out of the guestroom, specially at Cherrapunji-which incidentally is known to be the wettest place on the earth.

Meghalaya is a goldmine of tourist attractions including Caving expeditions (a short visit to the Mawsmai caves illustrated the huge possibilities in this area), Living root bridges, the monoliths and not to forget the innumerable awesome waterfalls.

Noh kailikai falls surrounded by deep gorges in Sohora (Cherapunjee) happens to be fourth tallest in the world and we were there in the full bloom of monsoon. While we stood watching it, the fog which was seemingly sedimented at the base of the valley suddenly started rising, like an erupting volcano. In a matter of seconds the whole valley of deep gorges was covered in fog and visibility was very poor. It was time to leave and by the time I put the car in gear it was all clear again. Playing hide and seek with nature has its own fun but this was something all of us will never forget.

‘Khublei Shibun’ is all we can say with gratitude.

A visit to the Sohora ‘bara bazaar’ (on Tuesdays) is a must too.


Nagaland (01/06/06 – 06/06/06)
 

Meghalaya was followed by a state none other than Nagaland. So rich in tribal legacy yet so unexplored.

The team did three camps there – one in Rangapahar near Dimapur with the army HQ there, and second at Kohima with Assam Rifles (both co-sponsors to our project) and another in a village near Kohima called Tsosinyu. Rangapahar camp was a cakewalk as the populace knew Hindi but in Tsosinyu (arranged by Assam Rifles) we had a young Army jawan as our interpreter who knew the local Nagamese language very well.


Tsosinyu – Nagaland camp


It was interesting to see him dressed in camouflage with a ‘bullet proof jacket’ and explaining ‘self breast examination’ to the local ladies. His ease with the subject matter and the openness of the villagers to ask frank questions through him was like an effortless meeting of different worlds.

After the camps a visit to the Naga Heritage Complex was quite an eye- opener as we got to see life -size habitat replications of all major 14 tribes of Nagaland in the most scenic surroundings.

A visit to the World War II - Kohima War Memorial (maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) seemed like a pre requisite to anyone calling themselves patriotic. We never imagined we would be spending three hours there, just reading epitaphs. Each epitaph spoke of the supreme sacrifice in the language of the heart. Naik Ghulam Muhammad’s name made us all skip a beat as he was all of 16 years of age when he bravely gave his life for us on 14/10/44.

‘When you go home tell them of us and say for your tomorrow we gave our today’. - A soldiers epitaph

The above sentiments echoed not just in the World War II War Memorial but everywhere from the highest mountain passes to the lowest battleground


Manipur (06/06/06 – 15/06/06)
 

Patient with Metasstasis – RIMS Imphal, Manipur
Manipur like Nagaland was a last minute entry into the itinerary, all thanks to Maj. Gen. E.J. Kochhekan SM.VSM .The camps there were attended by one and all from the uniformed to the civilians including the local population of Kookis, Meiteis, Tamilians, Muslims and others. It showed us a different side of the state. A camp with just school children at Imphal, another at Moirang with the locals and another with the Catholic Medical Center-with Catholic Nuns was unique. The nuns and father made for an extremely inquisitive crowd. Peals of laughter and some shy glances apart, they seemed very keen on
knowing more. The school children gave us a window to the future generation of Manipur. Ill effects of Tobacco etc were explained to them with visuals.

On 13/06/06 the camps were scheduled back to back in three different villages. Heavy rains delayed the first one at Senapati and it snowballed into a delay of more than two hours till the third camp at Motbung. People were agitated but waiting. The moment we got out of the car we knew we had to tackle it well. While Vandana and Tista were setting up the audio-visual aids, I just walked up to them and asked them to sing a song!! Yes…to sing a song out of the blue!!! They were startled but obliged and soon the angry crowd was singing hymns (Motbung has mainly Kooki Christians). It soothed everyone and we rolled into a very actively participating camp.

I visited the Cancer patients at RIMS-[Regional Institute of Medical Science] in Imphal. Meeting an actual cancer survivor was very heart-warming for them. I could see hope reflected in their eyes.

Occasionally with Army protection but mostly on our own, we combed the roads to get a feel of the place. We were made to feel most welcome. Contrary to the reports one hears back home about Manipur and other northeastern states, we three ladies felt much safer there than in any of the metros.

Apart from the camps, the floating islands I (the only one of their kinds), the INA museum (Indian National Army of Subhas Chandra Bose) and the war memorials became an integral part of the itinerary. A state so rich in heritage, culture and sports needs much more appreciation and backing to make it flourish even more.
The highlight of the Manipur visit was crossing the International Boundary over from Moreh into Tamu a border town of Mayanmar. It was another landmark as this was the second international boundary we touched in our journey. As I stood at the bridge between the two countries I visualized myself of driving beyond the borders..Someday
Assam

 

No. 2 Bohikua, Golaghat Dist., Assam
On our way from Manipur to Siliguri we had a camp at Bokaghat-No. 2 Bohikua in Assam was another example of actually reaching out to the interiors. We had met Father Thomas on our way to Pasighat from Roing in Arunachal Pradesh. He invited us to do a camp in Bokaghat in Golaghat district, Assam. On 17/06/06 we went there and had a camp with the Missing Tribe [pun unintended!]. From collecting everyone to interacting with them (thanks to our interpreter Pushpa who translated everything we said into Assamese and Missing) to finally being a part of the song and dance ritual was quite an apt end to an otherwise empty Community hall when we
had reached Bohikua.
   
West Bengal  


A camp was held at Sukhna army campus on our way to Sikkim.

 

Sikkim (20/06/06 – 26/06/06)



Sikkim was a dream…for all of us in its own way.

For Tista it was like going back to her roots as her name is the name of the biggest river in Sikkim ‘The Teesta’.

For Vandana, it was visiting one of the loveliest parts of our country.

But for me it was a walk down the memory lane and revisiting the most memorable and fond reminiscences. I was posted here as the first lady doctor in this area way back in 1982-83. As a young 21 year old then, so far away from my home town, I was quite flattered by the Governor’s visit and the local Lamas coming to me for dental problems. In fact I even named my daughter Tista after the well-known river. Coming back to it all after 23 years had made me misty eyed.

 

The first camp on 21/06/06 was in Gangtok in the defense auditorium. The next day on 22/06/06 we moved onto North Sikkim where the sleepy town of Lachen was the next venue. We reached Lachen to find only 4-5 people there. The Sarpanch (Mukhiya is called ‘Pipin’ here) said …why don’t you start, people will come!! By the roadside, with two chairs and 5 people we started explaining things. In the next 15 minutes almost 70 people had gathered and a full fledged camp was underway.
lLachen camp

After that was Chungthang on 24/06/06 where with the help of the Sarpanch Mr. Lhendup Lepcha we had a camp. The local populace was mixed, coming from Tibetan, Lepcha or Bhutia backgrounds. While addressing us, they kept calling Tista ‘the daughter of Sikkim’. It was a proud day for her. It is important to know how open minded the North Eastern belt is. During the Self Breast Examination session, most of them would do it religiously. In case of any problem, they would not hesitate to just go ahead and bare it all.


That was soon followed by a camp for the Border Roads Organization. On 23/06/06 we got out to see the real beauty of North Sikkim. Not wanting to see the usual tourist attraction we set out towards the origin of the River Tista. Crossing small towns of Thangu, Giagong we reached the Gurudongmar lake (the origin of ‘Tista khangtse’ is 10 kms ahead of the lake). Situated in the Chholamo Cold desert and at a height of 17100 feet above sea level, the Gurudongmar Lake is a breathtaking view. Surrounded by Glaciers and barren mountain tops, it has a story to tell. According to the locals there are two sides to it. One is that Guru Padma Sambhava had come here and


Gurudongmar lake, North Sikkim – 23/06/06
with his walking stick it broke the frozen lake open. Another one says Guru Nanak came here and did the same hence the name Gurudongmar. Either way, it’s something all should see. A sudden jump in the height from 9000 ft to 18000 ft took Vandana and Tista by surprise and they were sick in no time, barely managing to take a few shots here and there and see the places by taking oxygen supplies.


After that I drove to a height of over 18,400+ feet above sea level. It was a treacherous drive and it will be always remembered by the team not just for the difficult terrain but the way I managed to keep myself physically and mentally fit for the drive as the vehicle was also showing high altitude effects by stopping on and off gasping for oxygen!!! As we started descending down I had headaches and finally graced the oxygen mask while driving.

It was getting late and we finally couldn’t go

to see the Deothang Glacier which is supposedly the one that melts down into Tista River.

Our North Eastern leg of the All India expedition finally came to an end in Siliguri on 25/06/06. We took a break on 26/06/06 to catch up with our documentation while our host Mrs. & Mr. N. C. Kar pampered us as we pounded away on the laptop.

Tista who had missed out on 3 weeks of school by giving that time (apart from whole of her summer vacation) to the mission was all set to finally fly from Bagdogra all alone on 28/06/06 to Pune to resume school. I know she is torn between her school for her studies and the Mission Project High >>> Ways which she shared as a dream with me.

The next day i.e. 29/06/06 I steered my SUV towards the Highways of East Coast and West Coast of Southern India via Murshidabad.with the feeling of emptiness in my heart without my daughter’s presence, who was always my buddy and navigator on all my earlier road journeys, right from the time she was a 2months old infant.


Some Camps
 

Karanja Ghadge – Maharashtra

Bankura Shilpi Kendra – West Bengal

Moreh – Manipur

Imphal – Manipur

CMC Imphal

Mahadevpur – Arunachal Pradesh

Quibang – Arunachal Pradesh

Hawai, Arunachal Pradesh

Our smallest camp – Yamik Dulom residence,
Rayang, Arunachal Pradesh



Hawai camp in progress, Arunachal Pradesh

Shillong - Meghalaya
 

 

 
   
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