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From The Royal Palace Of Mysore To The Land Of The Tigers: Let”s Go Traveling

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By Shruti Kesavan:

A vacation is like love – anticipated with pleasure, experienced with discomfort, and remembered with nostalgia.” –Anonymous

Ever wanted to just disappear from your office table piled with unfinished files or even detest going back home to an unclean room? This is something which all of us invariably experience every waking day of our lives. Even if we are comfortably ‘placed’ in our AC rooms we still yearn to feel the natural fresh air on our tired faces and still wish to hear the gentle stream flow nearby. There is always a part of us who wants to be the little girl/boy again, to just relax and take in the fresh air and a vacation is something that gives us that much-awaited experience.

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There I was with my family of five, covered with bags from head to toe, with my head phones hanging from my ears having no clue where we were heading as it was a surprise visit to somewhere I didn’t know. Coming from a family which makes instant plans, we had no clue about our final destination. All we were asked to do was pack our bags and get up at five in the morning. We did as we were told, half drowsy and half-awake anticipating what waited for us on the other side.

Residing in Bangalore, the only things you would know would be traffic, pollution and more pollution so we expected anything else but these three things. As we were travelling, we slowly saw the big multinational companies disappearing and started coming across the other side of the city. Then we realised that we were off to Mysore — a paradise on earth for the retired folks, to see more greenery than we could possibly imagine in Bangalore. We drove through small villages and fields where we saw young children and men working, the elders under big banyan trees braving the scorching heat with squinting eyes, trying to decipher who we were, a not so scary scarecrow and lots of tender coconut vendors on their bicycles. This was sufficient evidence for us to know we were no longer in or around Bangalore. Mysore, being nearly 250 kilometres away from Bangalore seemed a pretty easy distance to cover in nearly three hours.

The amazing part about vacations is that even if everyone seems to be doing their own thing we still feel united and still feel we belong with each other. There it was- my brother listening to his favourite music, my uncle snoring away to glory, my aunt cutting us some fresh guavas, my mother reading the news paper and there was still a feeling of belonging and oneness with the family. As we reached Mysore we realised the marked difference in the temperature between the two places. Though Mysore is way hotter than Bangalore, it makes up for the presence of fresh sugarcanes and green fields.

We visited the Mysore Palace which has a number of elephants lined outside it and people dressed in their traditional best waiting for a glimpse of the prince. In and around the palace were small shops where they sold souvenirs for the visitors. Be it colourful handmade wooden toys or key chains, they had something for everybody at very reasonable prices. Then it was revealed to us that we were actually going to Bandipur and not Mysore. We had to get there by noon and hence we drove past the city without spending the much required time there.

Within an hour, we had reached Bandipur. The place is well known for its Tiger Reserve and the forest regions around it. As we arrived, we had to check into the jungle lodge as we were already running late by the assigned schedule. In the lodge, every family is assigned a cottage. Fascinatingly, each cottage was named after an animal or bird; it varied from Monitor Lizard to Paradise Fly Catcher to even Racket Tail Durango. We settled for Red Munia. Next was the excitement for a safari into the tiger reserve.

It would be safe to say that it was an experience of a lifetime. The safari lasted at least an hour; twice a day and we saw animals we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Be it the majestic tiger himself, or a family of elephants. We saw various types of birds which we would not even have dreamt of and a whole lot of butterflies flying in and around our van. A group of deer sipping water in the pond or a beautiful peacock with her little ones, one second you would see an otter whisk past you and then a curious wild buffalo stares at you. You experience and simply soak in everything that the place has to offer.

After the safari we were driven back to our lodges and greeted with snacks and tea. In the three our time we were given for ourselves to assemble later for a movie, we gorged on food and rested for a while, while hearing the sweet chirping of the birds in the nests around the lodge. We were sitting in a tiny room with no television or laptops and yet, were happy and satisfied. A strange irony indeed!

In the movie screening, they aired a documentary titled ‘Save The Tiger’. It was both moving and terrifying to see the truth about what happens to these wonderful animals and how they are beginning to disappear. After the documentary we were served food and introduced to the bonfire where different families came together and spent time talking and dancing. We were not allowed to stay out after nine and were all sent back to our cottages where we were allowed to sit and talk as much as we wished.

The next day again started early with the bell boy waking us up for the next session of the safari, where if we got lucky, we could see more animals. If we didn’t want the safari we could also go for a morning walk around the lodge. The lodge was filled with cats and dogs living mutually for a change. Maybe it was just the environment which made even the animals ecstatic!

As we drove back with the memories still fresh in our minds, we reached Bangalore somewhere around nine at night. There it was- the same traffic and the same pollution waiting to welcome us to the place we call home! It’s been almost three months since we had been there, but the experience and memory stays right in the back of my head and very close to my heart. Bandipur is indeed a place one must visit, especially if one resides in or visits Bangalore.

Photo Credit: jackol via Compfight cc

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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