Nainital, India Workshop

After making contact with a professor in the UK with similar research on total sanitation, I received an invitation on Saturday Sept 25 to attend a workshop in the city of Nainital in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand (borders Nepal and Tibet). Nainital is 320 km (215 miles) north of Delhi. So, I’m in India now on a short notice trip to attend a workshop on school led sanitation held by the organization that I may work with for my thesis research.

I arrived to Delhi from Amsterdam Tuesday morning at 6am, and arrived in Uttarakhand in Nainital after an 8 hour taxi drive by 3:30pm or so. The drive was amazing, and shocking, and dream-like (after 6 hours of sleep in 2 nights). After leaving the airport from Delhi (which is getting ready for Commonwealth Games) I noticed that in comparison to my visit 2 months ago the city was impressive and well-organized. People of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) were cleaning garbage on every road, roads are laid out so there are CWG lanes everywhere for event traffic. A whole village has been built for something like 10,000 athletes, a new airport terminal is ready (it was amazing too), a new bus station with what looked like 1000 brand new red buses all lined up in rows, and those are just the things I could easily see. Then we were off to northern India on nicely paved tar highways for the next 8 hours  (though many pot holes later in the journey). About 1 hour from the airport you leave the state of New Delhi and enter Uttar Pradesh, and upon crossing the border the traffic came to a halt for the first time of the day. Turns out the state or police or somebody is not so well organized just next door and the main intersection on the road was completely uncontrolled. You can imagine the mess of a large uncontrolled intersection full of motos, cycles, buses, taxis, trucks and cars all in a jam facing every which way in close quarters as a few pedestrians try to direct traffic with no followers. Lots of honking, yelling and angry looks, but we made it through with some aggressive tactics. From there forward was no traffic problem. We were mostly driving through small farming towns and people were working in the fields everywhere – now that the monsoon is finished rice and maize are in season it appears. There is construction everywhere, even I saw a few “new cities” being built, from scratch! Then came the flooded areas because big rains came in the last 2 weeks. I didn’t see any really bad areas, but I heard it was very destructive in places. The more obvious impact of the rains came into view once we began driving up into the mountains. There were land slides everywhere. Enormous boulders took up half the two-lane road in places. Other places on the road, for instance where a stream crossed, were partially washed away. We managed to make it to Nainital, but we did have to take a longer route through a back highway, which extended the drive by nearly 2 hours. Overall the drive was quite interesting and brought an exciting reintroduction to India, especially after 3 days before not having any idea I would be in the hills of the Himalayas once again so soon.

Now I’m staying at the Uttarakhand Academy of Administration in Nainital. It’s a bit like a combination of Nagarkot, Pokhara and Junbesi (written about in Nepal blog) all in one town. It’s near the top of some hills/mountains at 2000m but overlooking a sizable lake. The “small” town of 40,000 is a big Indian tourist destination. Yet it is remote and surrounded by nature. It’s high season over the winter when there is snow and over the summer when it is cooler here than the rest of the country, but now is low season so it is very quiet and lovely. Birds are chirping even outside my window! The town is close to national parks and forests as well as a gateway to the mountains to the north.

When I arrived yesterday I dropped my bags in a nice guest house and went straight for the workshop. I had missed the first 8 hours, but made the last 4 of the day. The presentation introducing CLTS, school-led sanitation, etc, led by the director of UAOA, was very interesting. Many government people and school teachers are attending the workshop to learn about school-led sanitation so they might use it. Also, I was asked to tell a bit about my insights on the challenges of SLTS and will be presenting my findings on Thursday (yikes, I need to make a new presentation!!!). Today we will go to a school to see how to “trigger” behavior change for toilet use and hand-washing in a place without toilets. It should be really cool to see such a training or the first time, which is a starting point for the sanitation programs I’ve been following.

And, now research talks are underway with the director of UAOA. My field research would be elsewhere, but I may be able to live and work at the UAOA when I’m not doing field research. It is an amazing group of people and resources here (and the food last night was excellent – room service too, not to mention the hot tea that just arrived at my door step at 7am!). I’m not used to such treatment, but appreciate the kindness of the organization to host me and am enjoying my stay very much. Following initial research discussion, now it is up to me to define a research objective and make a corresponding proposal ASAP that benefits policy formation for the government of India which is the aim of the UAOA. I am thinking to look into the sustainability of ODF specifically, with a key focus on subsidization used in India’s primary sanitation program, the TSC – Total Sanitation Campaign. This TSC includes government run approaches to sanitation programs with high subsidy (at about 36 euro per toilet) as well as CLTS approach (with no subsidy and high participation). I can look at both programs to see in which ODF sustainability is best, and reflect directly on subsidization (while also looking at participation and governance). It would seem very interesting on initial considerations.

Now I’m off to a day of workshop and activities, and then to a night of working on a presentation I will make tomorrow on my Nepal research.