The sixteenth of June was a day most awaited by all of us, especially since we were to travel all the way to Himachal Pradesh to a place called Junga for the annual retreat for all the teachers of the senior programme. We started packing our backpacks according to the kit list given to us, and hardly slept the previous evening or night lest we should be late! The annual retreat is a part of the school schedule for teachers which helps them to prepare themselves mentally and emotionally for the long haul. The retreat includes a physical element and a more emotional and mental component.
For the trip to Junga, we travelled to the New Delhi Railway station from where we the New Delhi-Kalka Shatabdi train for a four hour journey to Kalka. The train left the station at 7:45 a.m. and reached a little before noon. From Kalka we boarded cabs for the campsite at Junga which is certainly off the beaten track. I wouldn't even contemplate driving my own car on that route because of the difficult terrain and quality of roads! From Kalka we took the Shimla highway passing Solan on the way. We took a right turn a little before the Kandhghat railway station. On the way to our camp, we came across a quaint place called Sadhupol.There was this little stream in which people, tourists were dipping their feet while children were splashing water on each other. This area also offers some really good sixty to seventy feet rock faces for rappelling. We were to visit Sadhupol for the rappelling activity later on. The journey to the camp Chrysalid at village Maheshu - District Junga is located at a height of 5000 feet and it is a three and a half hour drive from Kalka provided there is no traffic! The camp itself is made up of tents that can accommodate three people comfortably. There is a good supply of water and electricity too!
Of the few activities we undertook once we reached were a four kilometre trek to a hill called Peacock Point, a good 6800 feet above sea level. The high points of the trek included pitching tents, cooking food using firewood as fuel and greatest of all was sleeping in the open. The whole sky was lit up by the light of a million stars and right there in the sky we could see the Milky Way much like a dusting of stars in a huge band. Some of those in the group claimed to have seen more than thirty satellites in a couple of hours or so. Sleeping in the open was one of those few moments in life, an epiphany to be remembered and cherished for years to come!
The most important learning for me came from trying to slow myself down in order to keep behind with those who were able to keep up the pace. Some of them felt really bad and held themselves accountable for the slow pace of the whole team. In many cases they were close to tears. To slow oneself for the sake of another is the most difficult task that you can do especially if you are adept at that task. It is like a racing car moving at a snail's pace! But then ultimately when it became dark and late, a sense of acceptance and inevitability did creep in and then it was like. OK, so then we couldn't make it on time, what really did matter was that we made it. There was still a sense of accomplishment not for the sake of beating the clock but, for having reached the target. This was even more relevant for me because the colleague who was with me could finally make it and that was all that mattered!
The rappelling activity was another high point of the retreat. For this activity we drove down to Sadhupol and then, after crossing the ankle deep waters of the stream in three places, we reached the rock face. The sheer face of the rock almost eighty feet in height looked daunting at first, but then I elected to be the first to rappel down first. I wouldn't be wrong to acknowledge the fact that in the excitement of the moment, it was over before I started, reaching base to a bout of cheering and applause by those who were awaiting their turn.
The retreat was also about serious stuff like introspection,circle time, brainstorming and team building exercises. These were exercises that required the experienced guidance of Mr Vikramjeet Sinha, a renowned drama therapist who has worked with children affected by violence and abuse. The most important goal of the retreat was to connect to the self, understand one's self, and to understand and relate the high and low points in life and how they have affected how we are today! The last part of the group sessions was an activity in which groups of five drew a tree listing what they thought were important values and action points for them.
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