Members of Delhi Street Art, an initiative to promote public art in the country, recently travelled to Uttarakhand to paint the walls of five schools in the region. Here is a glimpse of their journey.
In the summer of 2013, a devastating cloud burst followed by landslides and floods took many lives and destroyed massive structures in Kedarnath and the upper Uttarakhand region. Several initiatives were launched by government and non-government agencies to help survivors. One such effort was launched by an NGO named SEEDS to build new primary school buildings in several villages.
A few weeks ago, they invited the team at Delhi Street Art to come up with creative designs and ideas to add colour to the walls of these schools.
Each school had a slightly different design configuration and yet a similar look and feel. Some of them had four classrooms, others five. The goal was to create something on the walls that would appeal to the young students as well as local villagers and visitors. Finally, on September 10, after many days of creative brainstorming and planning, the Delhi Street Art team left for this exciting art adventure equipped with paints, brushes, rollers, and other supplies.
It turned out to be a more memorable and rewarding trip than in anyone’s imagination!
Day 1: Late on the first night, after a brief stop in Rishikesh, the first stop was on the outskirts of the town of Rudraprayag. The first village school was still a few hours’ drive away but it had been a long and tiring 12-hour journey and driving at night could have been risky.
The team had a simple meal and while taking a walk along the dark road leading to Hemkunt Sahib, the members thought about what awaited them the following day.
Day 2: The valley of Rudraprayag was stunning. Pilgrims walked barefoot towards their religious destinations while trucks and mini-buses struggled up and down the steep roads. A two-hour drive brought the team to the small town of Ukhimath. The hills, as far as the eye could see, were lush green. In the distance, however, large chunks of soil and rock had caved in at several places and led to massive erosion, damaging the roads below. The village of Karokhi is another half hour drive from Ukhimath on the road to Chopta – the famed town in Uttarakhand that is also referred to as the Switzerland of the hills by some locals.
Looking up beyond the cascading waterfall adjacent to the cafe one could catch a tiny glimpse of the first school.
It looked a fairly long and steep hike to get to the top. It was! After a slow and somewhat breathless climb through a narrow, picturesque village path, the Karokhi School was clearly visible. It was a newly built structure and some of the landscaping work was still underway. After walking around the hillside and observing local flora and fauna, the team spent most of the afternoon and evening sketching out the designs on the walls. Being a Sunday, there were no children at school. But a few of them stopped by to admire and even bring some hot tea.
In the evening, a village local invited everyone for a delicious home cooked meal laced with fresh ghee and served with unparalleled warmth.
Day 3: The Delhi Street Art team got down to business early! There were five bare classrooms walls and a long front facing wall. As the day started warming up, the shapes on the walls started to take definite form and a more finished look. This was a school day and two of the rooms were occupied by students attending classes. As soon as the children took a break from their class, they eagerly joined the team in painting the walls. A mid-day meal prepared for the children was also enjoyed by the art team along with locally grown fresh pahadi cucumber.
By the end of the day, the entire school was gleaming in its new colourful avatar.
Day 4: Huddu village is further down the same road from Karokhi, but the road is broken in many places with landslides and often accompanied by cascading waterfalls. The school is a 200 meter downhill hike from the road and the buildings are visible clearly from all the surrounding parts of the valley. This being a Sunday, none of school children had come. The walk down the path offered stunning panoramic view of the valley. A special task undertaken at this location was to painting a giant “smiley” on the roof of the school building, because it is visible from where the kids and teachers approach the school.
The momentum certainly picked up and the well-coordinated team finished work the same day. By the time they started ascending the hill path, it was already getting dark.
Day 5: The target location for the day was a small village hamlet of Phali Pasalat. In order to get there, the team had to traverse for a couple of hours back through Ukhimath, and past the town of Guptkashi. The long meandering path leading to the school passed through terraced fields, lush countryside, and a picturesque village with stone walled homes. This was a smaller school – small classrooms and small walls. Right next to the school was an ancient Shiva temple – claimed by locals to be more than 5,000 years old. By now the art team was working like clockwork and everyone knew what they had to do and get done. For the first time, distant snow-capped mountains could be seen at the horizon now that the clouds had given way to bright sunshine. The day certainly had warmed up significantly. Dal, chawal and vegetable of raddish leaves was served as the midday meal for all.
By dusk, the creative endeavour was wrapped up. School children posed in front of the walls for photos as the team packed to travel another couple of hours and reach close to Sitapur on the Kedarnath road – also the site of the next school.
Day 6: The school at Sitapur is located slightly above the main road and is split between two sets of buildings – one with two classrooms and another with three. Right next to it is the old school building showing massive cracks created during the earthquake. While some classes are still being held there, the plan is to move children to the newer, safer buildings as soon as they are ready. Several kids jumped in to participate in wall art.
Their enthusiasm was infectious and they kept everyone entertained by cracking jokes in Garhwali, singing songs and just being themselves!
By 5 pm, all walls had been painted, selfies clicked and all the supplies packed and loaded into the car. They were now ready for the long journey to Tilwara – back on the road towards Srinagar and Rishikesh – the final destination of the trip.
Day 7: The village of Dangi Gunau is a steep one hour drive up from the town of Tilwara. The school is another short but steep walk up from the main road.
The village folk (mostly older women) were extremely warm and hospitable and offered hot tea, roasted corn and smiles that could light up the mountainside.
Many young people of the village appear to have moved to nearby towns or distant cities in search of jobs and faster life. It seemed a shame that while city dwellers craved to be out in the hills in search of clean air, water, peaceful surroundings, and healthy food – so many in these pristine mountains had settled for polluted, crowded city environment.
Now that all the five schools had been given a creative makeover, it was time to wrap up and say goodbye to the children, teachers and village elders.
The Delhi Street Art team shared their time and creative efforts and left some colour and imagery on the walls, but most importantly, they experienced the joy of being a part of an initiative of hope and happiness!
(Written by Yogesh Saini)
Know more about Delhi Street Art here.