Thursday, May 7, 2009

Final Post - TFI Concluding Report

I am leaving for Nepal in 2 days. I have accomplished what I came here to Taktse to do. Now, in order for the project to be self sustaining, Sherap will have to be in charge of managing the farm. I will continue to do this kind of work in Nepal, and I will plan to come back here to Sikkim as my home base in September. I have a few close contacts in N. Sikkim in Mangan, where they support a Monastery which is interested in a similar project. Mangan is 2.5 hrs from Gangtok, so I will easily be able to travel and work between the two locations. I have finally gotten the go ahead to build the greenhouse on the site. I met the welder and it will cost roughly Rs. 30,000 for the srtucture, transportation and labor, which I will be sharing with Chodten Monastery in Gangtok, whom is building a similar greenhouse, and whom Sonam Paljor Sir gave me the contact for the welder, Nirmoy. That will be taking place in my absence. I have written a concluding report, but I have temporarily misplaced my pen drive, Ill try and post it if I get the chance.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Things are starting to grow...rain everyday

Well, things have finally really started coming up, including corn,radish, pea, butter bean, soyabean, squash, pumpkin, cucumber, garlic, flowers- gladius, sunflower, marigold, lupine, and lily. We have also made boxes for more flowers, and even more boxes for radish transplants, carrot, and turnip. I seeded beets the other day, but they haven't sprouted. My onions are in 25 cell flats and have sprouted nicely. Perhaps they will be ready to TP in a few weeks. My TFI club has met for the second time, and they constructed a bean dome, similar to the previous one, but made from small saplings rather than bamboo. On our next meeting we will hopefully be heading to a nursery just down the road in Pangthang. I will be going there today in the pouring rain to scout it out, and let them know I am planning a field trip there. I am re-reading Thoreau's Walden now. What a masterpiece full of introspection and points to ponder on. Another great book I have read recently are The Inheritance of Loss- Kiran Desai (takes place in Kalimpong, and winner of Man Booker Prize 2006. I have been reading and playing a lot of guitar, as I have nothing but free time when I go home to Arithang alone week after week. Please enjoy the pictures below! All the best! Ben

Monday, March 9, 2009

Seeds to plant, but water is scarce...

I have started planting my seeds now- corn, beans, garlic, pumpkin, squash, gourd, cucumber, flowers...the only problem is that there is currently a water crisis, both in Gangtok, and up here in Pangthang. Though maybe completely unrelated- the past 4 days in Gangtok there have been queues of people waiting up to 2 hours to fill a bucket from the back of a truck. The old cast iron pipes were burst due to an avalanche. They are being replace, but it takes time- up to 5 or 6 days. I havent been able to bathe since it started! The water issue at school is due to a mix of it being the dry season, and water pipe issues stemming from Gurung's place. I am working on acquiring the greenhouse material, albeit slowly. I now have a club of 7 great students. We will be meeting every other Saturday. On our first meeting the boys helped Sherap finish the corn fence. Next time we will be building a bean dome like the one in the picture. The kids are really excited and actively engaging in the work, so it makes me happy. Other than that things are going smoothly, I haven't gotten intestinal problems yet- touch wood. Below I will put pictures of what the terraces are looking like now!

Skilled workers making a drainage system- preventing soil erosion during the monsoon


Bean dome

Bamboo ties, all decomposable

The farm

Corn rows

some squash and pumpkin hills

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Completion of the Terraces

Well, since my last post I have completed the terraces with the help of my trusty skilled laborers. The next stage is to build the soil fertility. To do this I am working on getting 2-3 truckloads of compost from Chuten Monstaery in Deorali. Everything is looking so beautiful, and the transformation is really amazing to see in such a short time! I recently made a trip to Siliguri, the city in W. Bengal which basically supplies the lifeblood to all of Sikkim. There, I purchased seeds for some of the vegetables I will be growing. I still need to get flower seeds, but those can be acquired here in Gangtok, as Sikkim is known for its beautiful flowers. I also plant to try and grow Kiwi fruit. Now I am working on the drainage system so that the heavy rains during the monsoon season will not destroy all the hard work we put into this project. here are some pictures:

Sunday, February 8, 2009


A lot has happened since my last post. Winter Camp is 2 weeks underway at Taktse itself. Unfortunately I am unable to partake in the camp, as I am busy with the TFI project. I now have an assistant, Sherap, who is from West Sikkim. He is great and a hard worker at that. The first 2 days on the land, we were cutting trees down with only an axe and a bampak which is like a machete. The second two days we were carrying trees and stacking them in a pile, some of them weighed up to 60 KG or more. On the last day of that we asked Gurung, who is the fellow who lives with the cows and goats there, if he could summon some locals to help us pull out the stumps on the land. It is about an acre of land, and I will be making terraces on it. There were at least 40 to 50 stumps. So the following day I was greeted by my work force- Sonu, strong young Bihari, Pasang Sherpa, a 14 year old boy, Bishnu Maya, a grandmother, Maya, possibly Pasang's mother, and Sama Maya, a young mother with her 2 year old boy. We got straight to work after I settled their rate- Rs. 140/day for the 4 adults, and Rs. 120/day for Pasang (1 USD equals around Rs. 50). They seemed like they were high in spirits and used to doing such hard work. Maybe it was the fact that I was paying them a good rate, or the fact that I was alongside them with a rambar, axe, and bampak the whole time, but they worked so hard it was really admirable. Anyways to make a long story short the stumps and rocks were all removed in a period of three days, costing me exactly 2000 rupees for total labor, wheras if I went the other way and hired a 'dozer it would have cost 6000/day plus fuel. I definitly made the right choice. Tomorrow I will have the same crew, plus one more man, who will serve as the chief wall engineer, Sonu will be his right hand man, and the women will collect the stones, and level the earth. Today on my day off I went river rafting in Mali with the teachers staying in Chandmari. It was unbelievable and so beautiful, the rapids were class 2. The trip was meant to see how it would work for a complete faculty, or even student field trip in the future. Thats all goodnight!
My work team

My office

Sherap Gyamtso Bhutia

Day 2 chopping
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Rafting in Mali

Sherap and our compost box

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I started a music blog

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Taktse Winter Camp for the Arts and Leadership

Well I arrived back to Sikkim from Bhutan last night. The trip proved to be hugely successful both in the amount of stuff we got done in 10 days, as well as introducing 14 or so new kids who do not attend Taktse to the schools teaching method. I definitely saw the physical and emotional opening up of many of the local children. The parents themselves were able to see firsthand how their children are taught at school, and how dedicated the teachers and Mr. Lauenstein are to their childrens education. The different workshops we conducted were Reading & Writing facilitated by Ghenla Ezra, Storytelling and Singing which Acharya and I facilitated, Theatre and Portraiture faclitated by Mr. Lauenstein, and Bookmaking facilitated by Lopen Anila. On our one rest day last sunday Ezra, Acharya and I were able to make the trip to Paro about 1 hour away. It was our dream to visit Taktshung, the Tiger's Nest- which is a monastery literally built onto the side of a cliff, 2 hours hike up. that was a really amazing and spiritual trip for me. On top of the amazing experience we were having every day with the kids, their parents were so warm and hospitable to us, making sure we were well fed, and had everything we needed the whole time. So, my warmest thanks and gratitude goes out to them for that. I got to celebrate my birthday in Thimphu (Jan. 7) and one of the girls Kinley had the same birthday as me, so her parents brought in cakes for both of us that we shared during the tea time in the morning. Unfortunately, I had gotten a fever the night before and was suffering from an ear infection the rest of the time in Bhutan. Even now I am hearing a ringing in my ear which I need to get checked out by an ENT specialist as soon as possible. Still even with being sick this trip was one of, if not the most unique and memorable travel experiences I have ever had in my life, and I have traveled a good amount. It has been 6 weeks since coming to Sikkim and I am not feeling homesick at all- I simply love everything about being here, and am anticipating getting started on the TFI project as soon as I get well. I am planning to take a trip to darjeeling to a school which is focused on agriculture for the low class. more to come