Today has been exhausting both mentally and physically. I don’t know why because today has been restful in the sense we have been traveling mostly. Maybe the change in pace or this new lifestyle is just setting in. Some of us woke up early this morning and were able to go for a short run and explore the monastery. The golden pagoda was absolutely beautiful in the early morning, although it was somewhat muggy out due to the long rain over night. We walked down a long stairwell covered in prayers flags and visited the river. The river ran quickly, almost telling us it had somewhere to go. Some of us had the chance to meet with the chief monk prior to breakfast. It was a blessing even though it was a short period of time, we were able to also meet and speak with the local medical officer and wife and then were introduced to a young girl named Rilla, a senior in high school, who would be traveling with us to RIWATCH.
Thus our journey began again. This ride was BUMPY. Our driver was in a video game almost, having to maneuver the car around potholes and enormous rocks. There were several times I think we thought we wouldn’t make it. After about an hour we finally made it to the stop where we would be ferried across the river with our vehicles. I can safely say this was an experience none of us will ever forget. The indigenous people have set up a mode of transportation so proficient and profitable. The river was just high enough that we could make the trip safely. Loading ourselves onto this makeshift ferry was unreal, but everyone did it so swiftly without putting much thought into it. Such a normalcy in the hustle and bustle of daily life but so new and exciting to all of us. As you can see we made it!
The village we came to and ended up driving through was cooking fresh fish, sardines maybe? Some of us were brave enough to try them and were delighted by the taste. Our journey continued and the scenery changed drastically. Young girls carried baskets filled with wood on their backs. Goats, horses, pigs, cows, and dogs roamed the streets. People were hard at work laboring on their homes or at their makeshift shops set up along the road. After several more hours of bumpy travel and stopping to get to learn about the Himalayan rainforest, we made it and are here at RIWATCH. Let me back up at talk about was Veejay Gi shared with us about the rainforest. Elephants used to wander through the area and go deep into the forest looking for vegetation but would find themselves stuck and would end up dying. We saw red inedible bananas growing in the forest, as well as long orchids hanging from the massive trees.
When we made it to RIWATCH we were welcomed by staff and professors, all well regarded in the community and internationally. Lunch was delicious and everyone has been so hospitable, a common theme throughout this trip. We had some time to ourselves to unpack and rest and then met with VJ Gi who presented on RIWATCH and what they do on a national and international level. After the presentation was a delicious dinner…and now sleep. Goodnight!
Reflections by Leah Abramoff:
Traveling from state to state in India lends itself to new terrain, scenarios, and traveling options. For instance, from Delhi to Assam we were afforded a lot of honking (honking means something different in India..more of an “here I am” thing than an aggressive thing) and we had lanes although they were more of a suggestion than a rule. Now we were headed into more rural areas and were no longer traveling along paved roads but rather a dirt/muddy road. There was now a lush amount of greenery and more free range animals roaming around on roads and along the sides. We also traveled by ferry where we loaded up our cars and then sat on the deck for the half an hour ride from one bank to the next. We could see that there was work being done on bridges as an alternative way to travel from one side of the river to the next, but we were informed that this has been at least 10 years in the making and no one was sure when it would actually be done so ferrying across is currently the one and only option for traveling across the river. As we made our way to RIWATCH and introduced ourselves to some of the staff and people at the facility, again, dinner was vegetarian and I think we were all getting into the idea that meat is not something that is expected at every or any meal – like it can be within the USA unless otherwise stated – as we have now entered a mostly vegetarian diet. The meals have all been very delicious and I can’t say I was missing meat all that much, but I am not sure if everyone else held this sentiment or not.