A to Z of travels

I hear a giggle behind me and turn back my head to see two beautifully glimmering brown, wide eyes staring at me. We are sat on a cramped bus with our stuff piled on us. The baby is standing on their mother’s lap, a huge grin smeared across the face and reaching a wobbling hand out in a struggle to stand, even with mum’s support. Giggling again, I get a smack across the nose. “Hahaha.” Now people are staring, smirking. I politely bow and say “namaste” to the little fellow. Smack. “Gahaha heh.” Mummy sits the child in her lap indifferently. Turning back to the face the front, I sit comfortably once more. Then I feel a tugging on my hood and notice the baby pointing outside. When I look the finger is whipped back and fits off laughter erupt. I can imagine the child thinking ha, fooled you so I pull a silly face and turn around again. The rest of the journey from Old bus stand to New bus stand in Shimla is filled with such confrontations. Maria’s only comment? “Well, with a face like that I’d laugh at you too.”

It is strange how the smallest thing like that can brighten your day – sometimes when travelling and boarding your second 10 hour over night seating bus you have to ask ‘Is this meant to be fun?’ Of course, it is actually fun. It is truly inspiring, thrilling and an extraordinary experience. But it sure is a tiring at times too!

Here is an A to Z of my travels, 30 days in

A – Angrez aka gora – those white people walking around with a lot of luggage looking a little confused. (I would like to think that with a combination of Hindi and 7 and a half months experience we look a little less confused but I am not sure how true that is…)

B – Bun butter – meeting the girls from PT in Ahmadabad in a dodgy cafe selling delicious butter buns. It was interesting hearing their experience of India and fantastic to see them again – they are doing an incredible job working in their project by the sounds of it. Kudos to them.


C – (lots and lots of) Chai – CHAAAAI CHAAAI BUDIYA CHAAAI – you want chai? Sometimes our journey is less of a tour of India than a tour of India’s numerous chai outlets.

D – Dead man walking? 4am arrival. Next to no sleep. Is this our destination or the set for Walking Dead?

E – Eating at Bakerys – India is filled with them if you look in the right places. Heaven is finding real cheese once more

F – Free Food and the Golden Temple – the kindness of Sikhs is really commendable. Meals are served to anyone whatever their status. And the best part? If you want more rotis (bread) to eat with then you have to put your hands out almost like a beggar to receive them.

G – Gandhi – both his Ashram in Ahmadabad and the quaint little museum in Delhi… poignant monuments to his life and legend

“I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj (self-rule) for the hungry and the starving millions?
Then you will find your doubt and your self melting away.”

H – Hindi – that’s right, I can pretend I can understand everything you are saying because I understand every 2 or 3 words and impress foreigners and Indians alike with my linguistic majesty. In all seriousness, knowing even some Hindi is the most useful thing – and the gateway to successful bartering at times

I –  (strolling a long a Himachali road we see locals pushing a policeman in his police van down the hill to give it a traditional kick start. Spluttering to life it wheels round and the man inside cries) “Indian police very poor” …but they have nice hats.

J – Joint, you smoke joint? No thanks… 2 minutes later: Joint, you smoke joint? No thanks… [repeat]

K – (the mountain peak of) Kheerganga – natural hot baths on a snowy mountain peak, staying in a wooden log hut and getting cosy for warmth



L – Lights off – No Indian style burger is complete with electricity. A romantic candle lit meeting with an elderly man who we would end up meeting for days on end – driving us to trek up mountains in Himachal Pradesh!

M – McLeod Ganj – if you like hippiness, tibetan food and kind people coupled with beautiful mountain views this is the place to be. Not to mention Buddhism and the Dalai Lama. (If you get the chance to read it I recommend his book ‘Beyond Religion’)

N – Newspaper – after a long hunt to find one of these for something to read on a bus/train journey getting one feels like victory. India proves they’re not just for reading too..

O – Octopussy – Shamefully never watched the full Bond movie while in Udaipur but we at least spent several days in the city of its setting?

P – (missing our) Project! Having two sets of people to miss is new. It is incredible to be travelling but there is so much in Maheshwar and at Ahilya School I miss; not to mention our amazing headmistress

Q – Queues, or lack thereof. Waiting outside. There is a rabble. We are British. Need I digress?

R – Religion and spirituality. Whether it is a baba beckoning you over to deliver a lecture on nature, the bus driver pulling over to place some incense at a shrine, or even the morning god songs acting as your alarm clock religion and spirituality permeates Indian society and life. Right outside your door and in such variety, it is an inspiration and a testimony to the common humanity of man.

S – Spreadsheet city – Chandigarh in a nutshell. India’s cleanest and greenest city is fantastic (every city should be that clean and green) – if a little unnerving from all the prison style names (sector 42a etc) and perfectly square layout reminiscent of Microsoft Excel

T – Toilets – by far the best part about a budget trip to India is finding a nice one. General tip for foreigners: Just hold your nose and try your best not to fall over.

U – U and me together – travelling means spending your time with someone even more than usual. By now our PT arranged marriage is fairly solid though.

V – Vasundhara (Vasu)… proved to me that ‘An Indian welcome is always genuine’. We gatecrashed her and her flatmate’s life for a few days and had a fantastic time because of it. A huge thank you to you once more!


W – Well well well – (in Hindi) we are looking for the well – you want swimming pool? – no no the well near here – hotel? I know hotel with swimming pool – where do they want to go? – they want a swimming pool – no we want to go to the well – *crowd gathers muttering* – sit inside rickshaw bhai – ok I ring my friend –

Vasu what was the name of the ancient stepwell we were going to?
It is called Rani ka vav
Rani ka vav?

“Ohhhhh” the crowd reels back in realisation

…So you don’t want swimming pool?

X – (e)Xtra Charges – especially in Delhi. Bartering is like a game you can take in good spirit or well… no you simply have to take it in good spirit to maintain your sanity. Shout out to the rickshaw drivers who give you a straight up honest price

Y – Yak Yak Yak Yak Yak – not us getting bored of each other but that furry beast wandering through the street. A picture with him will cost you 50₹ though

Z – zindigi pyar hai (life is love) a line from one of the many bollywood songs that are the soundtrack to a tour of India. India does music well (I’ll confess I am lured by the prospect of learning the legendary sitar…)


7th class story writing

Chatterbox. Caterpillar. Ancient warrior. The heart. Mountain. Wise. Just some of the story writing topics we have given to 7th class(though it might be better to say that they demanded them from us).

It is fantastic to see students so eager to write and thus practice their English – with the slight encouragement of a star on the reward chart for the best story!

Enjoy reading some of the few below!


Fatima Ansari - topic heart P1, unmarked


Fatima Ansari - topic love P2, unmarked


Alshifa Baig - topic wise, marked


Kalyanee Kewat - topic wise, marked


Vanshika - topic caterpillar, unmarked


Suraj Kewat - topic heart, marked

Departure for adventure

As I was walking through market in Maheshwar buying some things for travel I met a friend I hadn’t spoke to in a while. He offered me a lift home on his scooty and after informing him why we were leaving Maheshwar he was shocked. “2 months! Long time!” The wind was buffeting my eardrums in my stuggle to listen “and then August you leave wow Matt.”

The very same morning I had been helping Mrs Pawar with the computer tasks and she had explained “I have very much tension because you are going.” And then there was 8th class, who it is doubtful We will even see in May/June now they have finished school. It has been a joy teaching them and I hope it was worthwhile for them too – such great kids I wish nothing but the best.


Life is filled with Last Days, but it doesn’t make them any easier – and we are coming back after our tour of Northern India! Leaving in August will be ten times more difficult, despite how happy I will be to go home to see friends and family.

For now we are embarking on an adventure around Northern India…


We started off in Ahmadabad where we stayed with a friend we met in Maheshwar, as well as meeting the three girls volunteering in Gujarat – the first PT lot we have met since arriving in Maheshwar. It was really pleasant catching up with them and relating our experiences of India and our projects. Currently we are in Udaipur, are beautiful city surrounding a lake in the desert state of Rajasthan after taking another sleeper train.

After this it is on to Delhi and north to Himachal Pradesh, visiting Amritsar on the way, before heading west through Uttrakhand and Varanasi to the hill station of Darjeeling. On our way back to Maheshwar we will visit a couple of places before our families come at the end of May.

Travelling is exciting. The only problem is I now have two homes and two sets of people to miss.

Progress Report 1

This is a report and reflection of the project and my time in India so far, chiefly written for the various charitable donors who were kind enough to support me in my endeavours to live and work here in the beginning! Once again, thank you so much for all of your support!

It’s been six months since I first set foot in Maheshwar, a small town on the bank of the river Narmada in Madhya Pradesh, India. Apprehensive but curious on arrival with my partner, also from Project Trust, I have now fully settled into life in our comfortable apartment residence above a wonderful Indian family. We have our meals given to us at a cafe a short walk from our home and just over the road from the Ahilya School itself, where we both teach English. We do, then, spend the majority of our time within the walls of the beautiful Ahilya Fort. Mr Richard Holkar, Prince of the Holkar Dynasty in the area, is President of Rehwa Society and owns and runs the Ahilya Fort hotel. I suppose you could say that this is his kingdom and for one year we are his guests and employees!

The School and The Students

27 years ago ahilya School was founded by Rehwa Society, a weaving NGO, and Mr Holkar. Maheshwar has a great tradition for weaving and many of the children at the school come from weavers’ families who work at Rehwa. Others come from other deprieved parts of the community. Classes at the school run from creche through to 8th class (1-14 yrs) in which students receive tuition in a variety of Humanities, Arts and Sciences and English as well as being provided one free meal a day. All this for 80-200rs contribution from their parents each month depending on their class – a trifle, the equivalent of under £2, and nothing for the financially weaker or meritorious students who get tuition entirely paid for. The remaining is funded by the continuing work of Rehwa society itself as well as various visitors who kindly choose to donate to the school.


Teachers and staff from Ahilya School


Republic Day ceremony


Sports day Yoga

The school actively takes part in various extra-curricular events too in order to broaden the students education experience. Currently it is active with the “clean India” campaign and recently paid informative visits to the museum, post office, and since my time here we have celebrated, Children’s Day, various awards presentations, hosted a sports day programme and ran a World Religion Day event!


Gaetana Art prize presentation


World Religion day performance


Sports day volleyball

Some ex-Students who left the school a few years back were telling me how much they enjoyed their time there; students and teachers here are like one huge family and I have loved being welcomed into that family. Ahilya School gives the children in the community their first sure-footed steps into the world before they go on to further study or work.

My role at School

We teach written English for the Government State syllabus as well as running spoken English classes, teacher classes and sports at breakfast and after-school. What is striking is how eager many of the students and teachers are to learn from us! Since arriving we have also set up and started running the Ahilya School Facebook page (details for how to find at the end) to keep donors updated as well as undergoing a recorded review of students spoken English on request of Mr Holkar. On top of this, we have organised and ran a global citizenship day on world religions consisting of various drama performances – a topic we feel the students benefitted from increased awareness about.




The benefit of us staying for one whole year is that we are truly given time to get to know the students’ and teachers’ English abilities and thus more effectively help them to improve. This is certainly a stage we felt we only reached three or four months ago!

Already I feel teaching has helped me in my own way – my confidence has improved (it is difficult as a student to realise how challenging it is to teach 20-30 children). The nerves have worn off and I am always trying to think of ways to vary my teaching to make it interactive and fun! By far, the most difficult part is expression due to language barriers though. In written English classes a teacher with a competent level of English also accompanies us to explain things in Hindi where necessary and PT prepare us well with crash course TEFOL training which helps tremendously; but it takes time to come to terms with how to apply techniques and approaches learnt on training with PT and through independent research in the best manner.

The most useful thing I have done here is learning Hindi myself in order to aid my professional and social life. Mrs Pawar, the headmistress at Ahilya school gave us a few lessons in Hindi every so often when we first arrived and I often spend at least an hour a day with my books studying – mujhe lagta hai ki yah accha tarah se chal raha hai! (I think that it is going well!)

It seems to me that it is incredibly valuable having fluent (native) English speakers in the school, I feel as though we are appreciated in coming here. However, the past few months have most likely had a bigger impact on us than on anybody else.

NB: unfortunately I have been unable to set up a scout group as previously stated. Utmost apologies for this, for more information please contact me.

Community Integration

I won’t deny that is not always easy here. India is arguably more culturally different from England than anywhere in the world – you land in the airport in Mumbai and this immediately strikes you: the smells, the contrast of wealth (right next to Mumbai airport is a huge slum) and the sheer variety of different sights and sounds is an assault on the senses. India features a diverse amount of festivals, religious practices and cultural ceremonies which it has been enlightening to take part in on invitation from members of the community – and the culinary experience itself is something to vouch for (sitting on the floor and eating rice with your hands when invited to dinner is an interesting experience).

What’s more, seeing Hindus celebrate the Muslim festival Moharrum or all kimds of people celebrating the Hindu festival Holi, for instance, has given truth to the notion that there are those to whom religious differences are obsolete. In other respects, such as the strict roles of family members in what is undeniably a patriarchal society, give food for thought at the progress we perceive India is yet to make.



Of course, not all people receive foreigners kindly. We have made some significant friends since coming here which has offered insight into a completely different ways of life – on their front and our own, I think – but others are rude, or simply unaware of etiquette. Within school, students are excited to have us but accustomed to our presence. Outside of school, some strangers harmlessly approach us requesting pictures or attempting to divulge in conversation while others jeer or demeaningly shout ‘Angrez!’ (meaning ‘English’). While it is not terrible, it is not pleasant: being oppressed for being who you are never is. But India is an evolving nation and it is only a few of the largely welcoming population who provide this negativity.

On top of this we have been lucky enough to have two weeks free during exam periods to do a small amount of travelling on our own expense. This was a fantastic dip in the waters of back-packer life before we go travelling again for 2 months in April/May, the school summer break. We travelled around India’s notorious ‘Golden Triangle’, having a fantastic time tackling India trains, seeing the Taj Mahal and riding elephants as well as visiting two fantastic towns nearer to Maheshwar – Mandu, an archeological wonder and Omkareshwar, a spiritual place akin to Varanasi. We are incredibly excited to go travelling once more before returning to Maheshwar to complete our Volunteership.





Certainly, India is about as interesting as it is diverse – and there is a host of diversity and contrast! I know I am terribly lucky to be here, even if I do miss home and a nice piece of cheddar cheese and fresh bread now and then, but I would never change it. Thank you once again for the support you provided.

I hope this report finds you well. I intend to sender another just after returning to England so if there is anything you wish to hear about, please let me know. If you would like to stay further updated you can follow my blog or like our new Facebook page.

With thanks,

Matthew Perry
Project Trust volunteer India 2014/15

Blog: matty-perry1@hotmail.co.uk
Ahilya School Facebook page: search ‘Ahilya Bal Jyoti School’

In an all-blue world, colour doesn’t exist

India seems like a very normal place now. Maheshwar especially. When you have been somewhere for a long time, you seem to assimilate yourself so well that when you are significantly reminded of how different that place is the realisation comes down on you like a rock.

Alex Garland says in his novel ‘The Beach’- ‘In an all-blue world, colour doesn’t exist’. This is true… until you remember that your home world is red, the world of the US is white, spain is orange etc, until you remember colour does in fact exist and that there is a world outside this blue and, oddly, familiar one.

And it is not just me that feels this I sense. The whole school – half of Maheshwar in fact – see us in blue now also. Maheshwar has been so busy recently; an absorbing, suck-you-in kind of busy. After two weeks of school being on an off after Christmas due to the cold (ten degrees is unlearnable weather you see) the ball started rolling from event to event like it was possessed. And now it has started going it won’t stop.

We franticaly caught the students up on the work they had missed in their time off while the whole school prepared itself for the upcoming Sports Day programme, Republic Day celebration and Holkar Award presentation. The sports week was a host of competitions, games, a visit to the boys school for Indian Republic Day ceremony (featuring a particularly interesting dance containing both Narendra Modi and Barack Obama – Nationalism ‘Rastrawad’ in Hindi is a particurlarly positive word) and the annual presentation of the Holkar Award. The highest award a student at Ahilya School may receive – and they only have one shot at getting it. This year’s winners were Kanishk Chouhan and Samira Ansari. Perfect choices.

(Look at ‘sports week in photos’ which I will post later for more)

After this school was almost back to normal. Maheshwar, however, wasn’t. Yearly Ahilya Fort host the ‘Sacred River festival’ a celebration of music in the intimate manner it would have been performed at the ancient locations it would have been performed for royalty in earlier times. The Fort host upcoming artists and boost their popularity. We were proud to see a group of girls from Ahilya School kick this festival off on the Ghat with the music teacher!



The Sacred River Festival was also an absorbing, spellbinding aspect of the past month or so here. Traditional Hindustani music, if you give it time to sit and listen is the kind of music you can get lost in. The Ghats, fort and temple had been lavished with flowers in beautiful patterns as well as a large amount of entrancing candles throwing ambient light on the ancient architecture. The slowing rising moon, the stars and the song of a sitar accompanied by a sarong gave a magical atmosphere and only helped my appreciation of such wonderful talent.

Following this, life has almost been back to normal. Or “normal” I should say.

But, the ball is still rolling. This Thursday Mrs Pawar is visiting Indore to look at prices for small desks for the the younger classes, kick-starting our new mini-Project with Maria to help to find money to fund the purchasing of 75 of these – some £600. 19th February is our Desk Officer from Project Trust’s visit which will mark a milestone, on the 20th February we plan a (one month late) World Religion Day event for the sutdents as a part of Global Citizenship, however this may be postponed. After this we have a push to prepare students for their final exams of the academic year before the summer break.

Once that is over, it’s 2 months of being a tourist, 2 months of teaching and a plane journey home.

And that is one of those moments where the rock comes tumbling down.

The thing about an all blue world is that, despite enjoying and missing the colours of the world you left behind, you become fond of the one you have found yourself in.

Teachers and Gurus

The reviews are complete. Over 120 student’s spoken English recorded in the space of 12 hours. We are proud of what they managed here and understand the things that could have been done better – a sound basis on which the next volunteers can start the review next year. After finishing preparing the students for their exams and decorating our home for Christmas we set off for what we felt was a well earned break before Christmas.

This year it wasn’t until we returned home to Maheshwar from our small tour of Omkareshwar and Mandu that I began to feel Christmassy – up to that point I had had the odd moment due to the melodies of Queen, Shakin’ Steve, etc But on arrival home I had a parcel from my family waiting for me. Christmas in Indian is often notably unchristmas-like. But more on that another time.

Our tour gave me personally a lot to think about. On our way to Omkareshwar Maria joined us as well as Niradhara. Niradhara, or Amma, has an interesting history behind her that in itself makes you think about how you are spending the days of your own life, on top of all else she would give me to think about. In brief, I will tell you that she has been living in Maheshwar for around 5 years now, running an English teaching NGO for half of that time and living in an Ashram, following Ashram life. She is heavily inspired and influenced by her Guruji who is an individual I wish I had been lucky enough to meet.

In Omareshwar, across the river from the more famous temple is another one with a natural Shiva lingum enclosed inside. Maria and I ascended the steps of this temple, rung the bell and gave flowers in offering. Afterwards, we sat with Matt Patt and Amma in a refreshment shop trying to encourage Amma’s dog, Tilak to have a few laps of the Mango juice in a tin on the floor. It had been an eventful day for this small white haired and beautiful creature: Omkareshwar is surprisingly packed with territorial dogs (and Monkeys for that matter).


Here we began questioning the poor lady about the Hindu religion and Hindu culture. Guru, she said, literally means teacher or more fundamentally, remover of darkness and bringer of light. And they can be anyone, whether they realise they are being like a guru towards you or not. A teacher’s importance in India, one man told me when we first arrived, is paramount. Some Hindus barely realise why they do the religious practices they do – they have been unquestioningly brought up with them and in such circumstances gurus offer enlightment, Amma prompted.

There is so much that we are blind to on Earth. Since coming to work at Ahilya school I have realised just how much a child needs to learn growing up and how important a teacher is in providing that knowledge and forcing us to open our eyes. It is strange, thinking back, how much some students English has improved in only the four months that we have been here. Patt has for instance, got KG2 into saying ‘welcome’ (or ‘bellcome’ for some – one undertaker gets the fun made of her for saying this, ‘bell’ means ox in Hindi you see…) and ‘tank you’ when you mark their books (that ‘th’ sound is NOT easy), no small achievement. Not only that but the older children, after months of prompting now engage in casual conversation with you at the start of lessons for 2 minutes or so (asking awkward questions too like ‘Have you marked yesterday’s work sir?’ or even better ‘why are you late sir?’)
The most fantastic thing is that they are not reading from their books – and the bad habit of ‘he is walk’ ‘I am eat food’ is being ground out!

Every teacher at Ahilya school is passionate about what they do – they may dislike having to control a rowdy bunch of nine year olds but they do a fantastic job. As I have said before, not everything is perfect in the Indian Education system, the focus, like in England, is in my opinion too heavily placed on passing exams. Having them thrice yearly here from the age of 4/5, they are quite accustomed to them by the time they reach 8th class (but for some conscienous ones, no less nervous). But the teachers, are wonderful.

Niradhara said that anyone can be a guru, a teacher, the capacity lies in every one of us, even if it may not seem like it and I am tempted to believe her. The students, Mr Tiwari, other teachers, Maitra, Niradhara and Mrs Pawar especially have taught me so much about the way of life, the religion, the festivities and the language here which I have a lot to thank for. I hope that this has been mutual, chiefly because it seems to me that when you receive this from someone you are left with a debt that can only be reduced in one way: by sharing your own knowledge and experiences with others.

A light in darkness

Two of the biggest religious festivals of the two largest religious groups in India have passed within the last two-three weeks. The first of these was the Hindu festival Diwali celebrated as the coming of the goddess of wealth Lakshmi to bring the family good fortune for the next year. Prior to the festival we noticed numerous homes being cleaned and painted for Lakshmi’s coming. Diwali is seen as a time for renewal and a time for family where relationships between husband and wife and brotherhood and sisterhood are rejoiced in. We celebrated the duration of this in Maheshwar with friends, went to a function at Rewa society where we were gifted metal tubs with sweets inside, learnt how to make sanjuri at Sachin’s house, featured in the newspaper purchasing depuk (candle pictured below) and nearly had our hands blown off lighting firecrackers.


Just outside our home in Maheshwar is a temple specifically for Mahalakshmi, the Diwali goddess, and for the duration of the 23rd October this teemed with life. Normally residents pay visits to the temple for bhakti or worship, where it is more regularly peaceful. Traditionally, Mr Tiwari told me as we leaned agaist the gate outside his house, Diwali features on the darkest day in the lunar month after Dussehra as a symbol of the return of Lord Ram home after killing the evil villain Ravana and retrieving his wife, Lady Sita, from her abduction. The depuk light his journey on the darkest night of the lunar month and the many fireworks celebrate his coming. These candles are a light in darkness, but another, more pertinent and less literal one exists in Maheshwar too.




And this light reared its head after the second of these festivals, the Muslim festival Moharrum. This mourns the death of Muhammad’s son Hussein ibn Ali who was martyred in the Battle of Karbala. Tazias are constructed and worshipped for a two day period before being sunk into the Narmada river in tribute. Ahilya School constructed their own Tazia, which was paraded with the other 61 down the road to the river on November 6th. We celebrated this festival largely with Mrs Pawar, the Hindu woman who has been headmistress at Ahilya school since its foundation 27 years ago, and her family, as well as going to the school on November 6th with the other teachers to take tea and chat before the Tazia was taken down to the river.



What is striking is how peacefully both festivals passed and how largely they were celebrated by people of both religions. As I mentioned, we celebrated the Muslim festival largely with a Hindu family. Here lies the second light in Darkness.

Ahilya school has students from both Hindu and Islamic backgrounds. But everyone comes together to celebrate one another’s religious festivals, regardless. Islam and Hinduism are perhaps polar opposites in their predilect religious beliefs and concepts. Amid the turmoil of the current “religious” group ISIS and the unsettling hostile pasts of the two religions, culminating in events like the destruction of the 16th-century Babri mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, it is humbling to see people of different religions so readily celebrating side-by-side, proving a firm belief I have: that we people are all fundamentally the same. We all breath the same air and share the same blood. And the people in Maheshwar know this fact. This is the light in that darkness of current conflicts and disparities, a small Indian town called Maheshwar and the people that call that town home. I am proud to be living in such a peaceful and unique place.