The students of Class VII had a Rural Camp on the twelfth of October this year. This is a planned activity which has been going on in the school for the past few years. As soon as our SA.1 exams got over, discussions about the Rural Camp began. We were told that we would be visiting Chikhalgaon, a small village in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. Our parents were invited for an orientation about the camp on Saturday, the sixth of October.
The students were told about the activities and events which were being planned. Some information about the camp was also uploaded on the school website. We came to know that Chikhalgaon was the birth place of the famous freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak. There was no school in that village for around forty years after independence. Social activists Raja and Renu Dandekar took up the challenge of bringing some development in the village and now the village has seen progress.
To tell us more about the village and our visit there, Raja Dandekar sir came to our school. He showed a small video in Marathi which spoke about his life’s journey and about the school he built there named Lokmanya Tilak Vidyamandir. This school is obviously named after Lokmanya Tilak.
As the days passed by, no one could control the anxiety, curiousness and excitement. Even in class, we were chatting about the camp, about our stay and about the fun we would have. Packing for our trip started a day or two before our departure. At home, we had a worried lot of parents who mostly spoke about toilets we should expect. Continuous discussion on this topic freaked me out.
Finally the big day, which was the day of departure, arrived. We were asked to report to the school at six in the morning. The teachers accounted for everyone and asked us to use the washroom before departure. Those children, who had motion sickness and other problems, were asked to take medicines before leaving. At 6:45 AM, we boarded the bus and were ready to leave.
Not to our surprise, the bus journey was tiring. The extreme heat at around noon time made the journey in the non-a/c bus quite an experience. Frequent stops for washrooms and motion sickness made us more and more restless. We tried to keep ourselves occupied by playing games like Antakshari, chatting, sleeping, observing the scenery outside etc but nothing seemed to work. After a tiring bus journey for six to seven hours, we reached our destination.
We were welcomed by the teachers and the students of Lokmanya school. We were shown our rooms in the dormitories. The boys’ dormitory was called “Shivnirmal” while the girls’ dormitory was called “Leelavati.” We were given thirty minutes to rest which we spent chatting with children there. Some of us also observed the village through the window. We were then given a hot lunch consisting of rice, roti, curry and dal.
Later some teachers took us on a tour of the school. We saw a computer lab, a work place, the play ground, classrooms and various other rooms. All of us were taken by surprise when we got to know that the students made things like light bulbs, candles, desks, chairs and other things by themselves. They are taught to make things so that they can earn a living when they grow up.
The dormitory was cleaner and better than I had expected. We were put up in two rooms in the boys’ dormitory which had bunk beds and about thirty of us could fit into a room. The room had good ventilation with windows and about four fans. The toilets were alright but the there were so many insects all around that I soon decided that I would spend as little time there as possible. No surprise then that we preferred washing ourselves in the stream and the beach rather than the bathrooms!
After a small break, we boarded the bus and were taken to a temple where Chandika Devi was worshipped. We climbed stone steps to reach there. The temple was being painted for an upcoming festival. In the temple, there was a small opening through which we climbed down the stairs to offer prayers to the goddess.
Next, we boarded the bus to Dhabola Creek. We went on a big boat to see the fish market on the beach. But unfortunately, we were too late and the market had closed. So we went to see another fish market. We saw all sorts of fish there and the air too smelt of fish. We were given permission to touch the fish. Then, we were taken to a nearby masjid where we saw people offering evening namaz. We were taken by surprise when we were told that the masjid was six hundred years old. We also got a chance to observe the sunset from there.
We boarded the bus to go back to hostel for dinner but Pradeep Sir surprised us with a box of Gulkand (favour of rose petal jam) flavoured ice – creams. We ate them hungrily and went back to the dormitory. During a fifteen minute break, some of us created a discotheque using the shining light of our torches. But we were caught in the act and given a punishment of eating a late dinner. We were given dinner consisting of rice, rotis, curry and dal.
While walking back to the hostel, all of us observed something. The night sky was full of stars. I had not seen such a starry night before. Due to the lights in the city, we don’t observe the stars usually. We went back to the dormitory and it was time to sleep. How well we slept is a story for another report!
The next morning, we were woken up by Pradeep Da at 5:30 AM. Most of us were up immediately but those who took time to get out of bed were pushed out of bed. Seconds later, Pravin Da entered the room and said that he was going to take us for a morning walk for fifteen minutes. But it turned out to be an hour long walk. We walked on the road which was full of dry and fresh cow dung. We walked till we reached a small stream and turned back. The morning air in the village is fresh and cool and so refreshing. The roads have trees and bushes on either side and there was greenery all around.
Then we changed, freshened ourselves and went to the school ground for morning prayers. We were asked to remove our sandals. But as we walked, we started moaning and shouting as the school ground was full of stones which was poking our feet! To say the least, that hurt a lot! Some prayers were sung but then came the last thing we wanted to do. Twelve Surya Namaskaars - and that too on barefoot, on the ground full of stones! Some of us complained about it but the teachers did not oblige. That was painful. Hungry and tired, we went to have our breakfast. We were served rice porridge with salt and pickle! That breakfast summed up the wonderful morning we were having.
After a ten minute break, we were taken to a hall where the students of Std V were working on a science project. By the materials and instruments they were using, we figured out that they were making candles. The teacher was giving them instructions in Marathi and the children were following her skillfully. All of us were impressed to see the children doing this hands-on project.
Next, the older students of the school gave a demonstration of a Gram Panchayat. This topic was relevant to our lesson on governments in Civics. It started with the entry of Raja and Renu Dandekar who came in to take their seats. Someone with a camcorder was recording the demonstration. Some teachers spoke about the demonstration which was to follow. They were speaking in Marathi which turned out to be a problem for many of us as we aren’t fluent in Marathi. Members of the Gram Panchayat introduced themselves. Other students, acting as common people put forward their problems such as shortage of water, electricity, light, lack of education etc and the members of the Panchayat provided them solutions. Jainita Di and Kalyani Di thanked them for the demonstration and said that in our school, we are taught only through the text books and this disables the proper exposure of real-life problems.
This was followed by a delicious lunch of rice and amti, which is a Maharashtrian dish. Then we were divided into four groups. I was in the group led by Pradeep Sir which delighted me. Some students from the host school too, were part of the various groups. We were taken to a village named Adipadi, which was around two and half kilometer away from the school. With a water bottle, notebook and pen in hand, we set off on foot for Adipadi village in the hot afternoon sun.
For me, being in Pradeep Sir’s group is always fun and this time was no different. After walking for around one and a half kilometers, we stopped near a small stream where we were allowed to enter the water. As the rocks beneath the surface were slippery, we slipped on the rocks and got wet. Some actually started swimming in the water. Pradeep Sir said that the water was so clear that we could drink it! I tasted the water. Mmmm, it was sweet and tasty! Some of us washed our faces to feel cool. We also stopped at a nearby waterfall to catch a glimpse of the scenery.
After a long and tiring walk of two and a half kilometers, we reached one of the school girl’s house and stopped there for rest. There we got to interview an old lady for our Civics project. Pradeep sir translated the conversation to English which was awesome. After about half an hour, we started our walk back to the hostel.
By the time we reached back, most of the other children were playing in the school ground. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and played there till sunset. After an hour’s break which we spent chatting in the dormitory, we ate a dinner of rice and dal. That completed three straight meals of rice! Then, we assembled on the school ground to watch the students there perform a drama. But it turned out to be a song and dance performance by the girls. Then Jainita Di asked all the Choir students to sing for the hosts. We decided to sing the song, “Fireworks” by Katy Perry. Following that Anil Sir surprised us by singing the song, “Gaon me cha na na na cha na na na hoe re.” None of us knew that Anil sir could sing so well! After this, we went back to the dormitory for the night.
The next day, was the final day of our Rural Camp. Some of us also called it the “Departure Day.” Again, we were woken up at 5:30 and went for a walk. After freshening up we went to visit Raja Dandekar sir’s house. It was only about half a kilometer away from school. We were told that there were a variety of plants in the garden which Dandekar sir had planted himself. There were coconut and chikoo trees and various other plants. We saw a mango sapling, a fruit which looked like a red pineapple and a pond where lotus and a variety of lilies grew. We then, went back to have breakfast which was poha with aamras. This cheered us up.
Then came the moment I did not want to experience - leaving Chikhalgaon! We had to pack our bags and board the bus. We said goodbye to the students there and left Chikhalgaon with a heavy heart which put an end to our visit there. But before leaving for Pune, we stopped at a beach, half an hour away from Chikhalgaon. This was thrilling. As soon as we reached there, all of us ran off to the beach. We enjoyed playing in the sand and getting drenched in the water. Some got wet fully and had to change in the bus. Finally, it was time to leave for Pune.
The journey back to Pune was much more pleasant than the onward journey. First of all, the temperature was perfect. Though it was humid in the beginning, it became cooler as we left the beach. We stopped for lunch in a small restaurant and spent the rest of the journey playing Antakshari, Atlas, Movie Atlas, chatting and singing random songs. After a long journey of around seven hours, we reached the school by 9:00 PM.
As we got down, we saw our anxious parents waiting for us. I heard the teachers say something but I was in no mood of listening and dashed off to my parents. Tired and hungry we went back home as soon as we could. There were certainly some ups and some downs but I am sure that most of us enjoyed ourselves and the trip thoroughly. The good points were the exposure to village life, the greenery, clear water, the fresh air and the time spent with friends but bathrooms, insects and some meals were let downs. I made my mom promise that she wouldn’t serve rice and dal for a full week!
I would like to thank our teachers who accompanied us and guided us and the students and staff members of the Lokmanya School who took great pains to make us feel comfortable. We had a lot of fun and overall it was a great learning experience.
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