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In India again :: Champawat times
Sunday, 12 August 2007
Champawat is a hill station and a district in the Indian state of Uttaranchal. The village is located about 80 Km north of Bambassa, the most western border village with Nepal.
At 1600 meters the grip of the monsoon is less than in the flatlands making a stay pretty comfortable compared to the sticky 90+ % monsoon humidity. Coming from Nepal we parked our truck in the garden of Hotel Akashdeep and spend some time in this area. The road to Champawat coming from Bambassa, Tanakpur is adventurous in monsoon time to say the least. Several road sections on the wet side of the mountains are very prone to landslides. We covered several muddy, steep and narrow section. Not to be driven by the faint hearted! A shopkeeper called the road to his village quite tough. There’s a big road construction company (BRO – The Border Roads Organisation) somewhere in the middle of the road between Tanakpur and Champawat in beautiful valley. They have a challenging task to keep the road open and driveable in monsoon and winter times.

Arriving in Champawat we heard about the floods this years monsoon brought to Nepal, India and Bangladesh with 28 million people affected. We picked up some of the monsoon intensity in Chitwan National Park – where rains hammered down for at least several days. We have no idea if climate change has something to do with the intensity of the rains here but seeing the DVD documentary “an inconvenient truth” brings about the strong impression there is a human factor causing such a downpour. Other sources challenge the conclusions of this DVD documentary. In all both sides can’t seem to provide solid scientific prove for absence or presence of a human factor in climate change.

Hotel Akashdeep is located on the southern end of Chapawat – a 15 minute walk to town. It’s a family run hotel established in 1997. The garden has enough space for big trucks to park. They can supply electricity, water and reasonable priced catering. However the wedding season in India might not be the best time to stay at Hotel Akashdeep – you’ll probably find your truck in the middle of the marriage festivities.

The Champawat district in Uttaranchal is know for it’s ancient temples – Champawat village has the Baleshwar temple group on the main road. The rest is located around Champawat. See here for a list of the temples. The Baleshwar temple group is small compared to other sites, but it all seems very ancient and still in use by the villagers.

More recent history puts Champawat on the map for a large amount of tiger attacks on the villagers early 1900. According to reports one female tiger in the Champawat area was responsible for 436 documented deaths and listed in Guiness Book of World Records. A hunter called James Corbett came to rescue and killed the cat after having checked it was a genuine case of a tiger with appetite for human flesh. According to James Corbett the shot tigress had a  jaw serious injury which made it impossible for her to live on animal prey. Instead she discovered easy human prey. It must have been scary times in Champawat to have such a big powerful cat roam the area. To be on the daily menu as easy prey is a hard imaginable concept nowadays.

An ordinary stroll through the main street of Champawat shows there’s a lot of traffic going through. The whole main street is like a bus station hosting traffic to Tanakpur (south) or to Pithoragarh (north). There are a few hotels in Champawat, most of them on the main street. With this traffic there is the usual high density of all sorts of food catering businesses. We sampled the main one – they sell sweets and have a kitchen – selling all sorts of fried food. Not bad at all for a price of 40 Rs (74 eurocents) we ate enough for 2 persons including tea.

First thing we noticed in Champawat is the big difference in rural development here with villages in the Terrai in Nepal. Evidently there are more funds to build public facilities, houses, mobile networks (4 available), transportation and roads. Maybe because this area is closer to Dehli (400 Km) and people working there are sending money over to invest here.

Compared to what we’ve experienced in Uttar Pradesh (Agra, Bareilly) life in this part of Uttaranchal is very different. First of all there are less people and traffic is pretty relaxed. It’s almost similar to driving in Nepal. Compared to Uttar Pradesh, people here are less demanding, inquisitive and allow the average traveller a bit more private space. They keep a bit distance although the accumulated curiosity generated by 2 foreigners with a truck and a white dog ran very high at times.  

As in many mountainous places in Asia there are less women on the streets. Of course there is the habitual intense staring practiced by the men. For us after 9 months of Pakistan, India and Nepal it’s not as confronting anymore as before. One thing is peculiar though when staring back it causes great uneasiness on the other side – even up to asking is there’s something wrong with the usual flick of the hand. Such encounters usually end in great confusion – why are they staring (back) !??? To leave things as they are, we just leave the cultural staring to them. Some background reading about the staring issue in India in a much wider context can be found here.

A lot of children are on the streets during the morning in Champawat – all walking to school in uniform and big backpacks stuffed with books. There are quite a few schools in this village – a good sign. After 10am there’s practically no kid to be seen on the streets. The ones we saw had some kind of a job working in a restaurant, carrying wood, hay or just being stopped dead in your tracks by the sight of a foreigner.

In the kids context we read a surprising article in the Hindustan Times about birth control in India. The Satara district in the state Maharashtra (Bombay area) finances a 2nd honeymoon for couples who decide to have their 1st kid after 3 years of being married. The couple gets 7500 rs (€ 138) cash after 3 years or 5000 Rs after 2 years. Every quarter the couple has to attend a session where they get counselling about having only one child and the importance of nutrition and education. The campaign is aimed at cutting the districts population growth rate, especially in poor families. With the dense population and staggering growth in India it’s the first program we hear/read about – and it was good enough news to make the frontpage. This while we’ve seen many similar attempts published on billboards on the streets of Pakistan and Nepal. For a poor Indian family – having no kids for like 2 - 3 years seems like an impossible request to us. Pressure for peers, elders, society undoubtedly is very high – everyone has kids directly after marriage. To withstand this pressure as a poor couple for a long 2 - 3 years?? Anyhow, any attempt to control population growth is better than doing nothing at all – 1.1 billion Indian people is a lot already.

Shopping in Champawat involves going to many different shops to get the things we want. The positive side of it is we get to see most of the town (and the town sees us). The downside it takes a lot of time and asking around to get the basic food stuff. Prices are very reasonable even when we’re charged a bit too much compared to what locals pay. And getting money is no problem either – a brand new ATM of the state bank of India got us connected to the Meastro network.

A remarkable parallel at the time of this writing is the supermarket rise in India. With Wal-mart announcing it’s entering the Indian retail sector, the BBC reports about the unrest it’s causing with the traditional corner shop owners. Surprisingly a 80 year old lady in this article welcomes the supermarket rise, making it more easy to buy everything she needs under one roof – with AC, quiet and not in a crowd. For the corner shop owner it’s impossible to compete, most of them are located in the hustle and bustle of the main streets which is probably the only place to get a sufficient turnover. Even with 10-20 similar shops in a 100 meter radius. Only a sufficient distance from a supermarket will probably safe the small corner shop in India – like being located in a village in Champawat.

The 2nd encounter with India after a long stay in Nepal is a good one so far. The mountainous north of India sure is completely different in many aspects from what we experienced in Uttar Pradesh – the most populous state in India. To escape the monsoon even more we plan to head more to the north to see the Indian Himalayas. We plan to come down again when the monsoon is finished.  

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