A Himalayan Expedition into yourself BY Mala Kumar

The words ‘The Himalayas’ has always brought up images of snow-capped mountains, gushing streams, sadhus in caves, mountaineers climbing up Mount Everest, and bright fat apples glistening boldly on rows of trees. Now, however, the same words bring up wonderful and varied images --- of young people brainstorming in a warm little log-cabin over thyme tea and hot puris, of road-trips across pine-scented hills, of small and shy, greenish-pink apples that one can pluck and relish…ah, so full of taste, of resilient and cheerful children running up slippery slopes to come to school!

The Himalayas to me now is a world that is waiting to tell young people how important—and easy— it is to be progressive and still live in sync with Nature.

One of the best things I did in 2018 was to join The Himalayan Expeditions organized by The Walking School Bus. My reason to be on it was to work in tandem with illustrator Ruchi Shah and her art students to write a children’s book that would showcase a life skill. My surprise was that I learnt so many skills – including how to make Kumaoni raita. My joy is that I met amazing people, and saw and experienced a part of India that was is different from the part I live in.

India is a country of stark contradictions and fascinating diversity. I live in Bengaluru, a cosmopolitan, south Indian metro in the state of Karnataka. The Himalayan Expeditions was in the Kumaon region of the state of Uttarakhand, which literally means ‘Northern Land’.  Bengaluru is renowned for its educational institutions. Aspiring students flock here from across the country and beyond (causing the city to burst at its seams, but that’s another story!) Education in the small villages of Uttarakhand is a challenge---the difficult terrain is just one of the reasons for this. That young men and women from Canada have made it their mission to help make education more accessible for the children here is heart-warming.

Like all journeys, an expedition like this teaches you as much about yourself as it does about a new place. It shows you the endearing warmth, humility and resourcefulness of the local people, their struggles and triumphs. It also opens your eyes to the incredible beauty of a land and how important it is to protect it. As you sit and watch the horizon, you can see a layer of hills behind the green one…and ah, another behind it. And oh, is that ANOTHER behind that?

On clear days, one can catch a glimpse of the snow-capped mountains, and at other times you can see the hills shrouded in mysterious mist.

As I sit and write this piece at my Bengaluru table, a thousand moments flash before my eyes…of a group of young Canadians discussing new technologies, of me braiding my new friends’ silky blond hair for the first time, of the  students of the Himalayan Public School singing a beautiful welcome song for us, of them listening to stories using the SiMBI technology, of Aaron doing cartwheels and Ran and Sukriti practising kickboxing, of eating hot bhajyas by a riverside eatery, of Ruchi getting a group of children to draw a tree, of Mr.Brijmohan, the selfless headmaster, serving us tea, of proud and protective locals who are striving hard to conserve the biodiversity of the land, and of people several continents away from India who believe that there are local solutions to every problem.

Thank you Team TWSB for having me and Kumar with you, and good luck with The Himalayan Expeditions 2019! Apply to our February India Expedition today!

Mala Kumar loves to talk to children, cats, dogs and plants. She has written several books for children. She quit the job she loved as a senior editor with Pratham Books, a not-for-profit, multilingual publisher of children’s books to allow herself more time to write, read and go off on expeditions.  ‘How to solve a problem like Himani’ illustrated by Ruchi Shah and the students of The Himalayan Public School is her forthcoming book, to be published by Pratham Books in 2019.

Mala Kumar speaking to Himalayan Public School students about their future book, July 2018

Mala Kumar speaking to Himalayan Public School students about their future book, July 2018