Many contemplating travel to India are discouraged by its poverty but the root cause and solution to this often lies in the beautiful rural countryside. We urge you to visit and learn more.
The slums and bustees of Mumbai and Delhi, populated by millions of displaced people on the breadline often originate from marginalised tribal villages throughout the country.
Our own experience of working in the jungles of Madhya Pradesh highlighted the numerous tribal villages of the Gond and Korku tribes that were all but isolated from society as we know it.
That’s not to say that these mud and straw villages weren’t in the most beautiful landscapes and existing in one of the simplest uncluttered lifestyles remaining on earth – but that doesn’t always provide food, education and medical care.
We were lucky, over a seven year period of living and working with the Forest Department in India to spend a great deal of time in the forests of Madhya Pradesh.
Gonds are arguably the largest tribal group in Asia, with a population in excess of three million. Though much is known about them, some of the Gond people remain isolated from the rest of civilization.
Korkus live only in densely forested areas and are skilled in gathering food – often at the expense of local wildlife. They build their houses with bamboo and wood, and all houses have an internal fireplace.
Like every other tribal community, both Gonds and Korkus depend on agriculture, fishing, poultry farming and animal husbandry for their livelihood in scenes that are truly biblical. The manufacture of grass brooms and other small crafts can supplement income at market.
They all worship some of the pantheon of Hindu Gods that were absorbed into that faith over the centuries, whilst retaining some of their own practices and beliefs.
Remote villages of a couple of hundred people sustain life on the land, in areas increasingly restricted by the authorities in a desperate attempt to reduce impact on wildlife and the natural environment.
If the life-giving forests, soils and water courses can’t be saved, nor can civilisation – an ongoing conflict with increasing population numbers.
It seems fatuous to say that tribal people are some of the happiest we’ve ever met. Devoid of outside influences of radio and TV, without electricity and running water, they are obliged to live according to nature’s natural rhythms.
Rising and retiring in time with the sun’s arc, seeking water from rivers and streams, sitting around the campfire to re-tell stories or dancing to the heartthrob of traditional drumbeats. Despite this simplicity and deprivations, or perhaps because of them, the most common factor is always a set of beaming smiles.
This is all well and good if you can visit, observe and return to the comforts of your own life – not so if it’s all you know.
It’s easy to forget that every day is filled with and focussed on survival. Land needs to be tilled, crops sewn, nurtured and protected from birds and wild animals. Medical care is non-existent; education sporadic at best (if the nomadic teacher turns up); markets often a day’s walk away and water often a five mile walk away.
When the monsoons take hold from June until September, the jungle and rural roads are often swept away or impassable for weeks on end – meaning that subsistence is the mantra and no access to nearby towns for medicine or provisions is possible. Education, on the other hand, dries up.
Its little wonder that with the acquisition of a communal radio, or the luxury of a village satellite TV that the younger generation soon migrates from their village in search of the bright lights, modern culture and wealth – sadly an elusive aspiration inevitably frustrated in the slums of the big cities.
This needn’t happen.
The latter years of our time in India were dedicated to raising funds for the relocation of tribal villages – out of the remote, inhospitable and deprived forest and jungle areas – into locations closer to towns, with their own amenities and access to all social needs such as education, markets and medical care.
In an initiative instigated by both the Forest Department and ourselves and supported by the State Government, tracts of land in the forest are exchanged for tracts outside of environmentally sensitive areas and a cash incentive given to each of the tribal families in order to re-establish their homes, fields and agriculture.
With the benefit of a less restricted ability to farm and an increased ability to trade produce for necessities, social interaction and wealth increases.
With financial support from caring donors, our own initiatives have expanded to sponsor education for young children (freed from the daily chores or dirt of the forest floor) throughout their school years and the building and equipping of schools through Cherrie’s charity Patchwork Kids.
The benefits to these schemes are a hundred-fold. Tribal people regain their independence from harsh restrictions within jungle areas; they’re provided with access to markets, medicine, social interaction, electricity, running water and trade; education helps them to become employed locally, to understand simple trade and commerce, to aspire to less than poorly paid menial work; the migration of the young from rural areas to the big cities slows and the slums, just imperceptibly at first, swell less in size and number.
Short visits to countries seldom reveal the underlying tensions and issues that colour the landscape through which you drive.
Perhaps we can persuade you to visit India – almost because of the poverty – to experience some of the stunningly colourful rural scenery that’s populated to this day by some of the most ancient indigenous peoples you’ll find in any country.
You can’t help but be welcomed by them and embraced as friends – and you might just be able to make a difference.
If you’d like to know more about our charity ‘Patchwork Kids’ and how you might help bring a future to marginalised children in India, then simply click here.
Why not ask us to arrange your own tailor-made travel – to immerse yourself in the wonders of tribal life, history and safari in India?
Why not download the TLC World guide brochure or give us a call today on 01202 030443, or simply click ‘enquire’ to submit your own personal itinerary request