It was August 2013, in BR Hills in India.
We were visiting soliga people, also spelled Sholaga, an ethnic group of India. Its members mainly live on the Biligirirangan Hills. The Biligirirangan Hills are commonly called B R Hills, and is a hill range situated in south-eastern Karnataka, at its border with Tamil Nadu.
The Soliga tribe has been in the Hills for centuries, but the government is turning these places into parks to protect the animals (tigers, leopards, etc). Legally, the government isn’t allowed to force them out of their homes, but they are no longer allowed to hunt anymore and have to find other ways of surviving out there in the middle of no where. There are 5 clans and about 300 people in each clan.
Discovering the Soliga Tribe of BR Hills
Getting to the tribes took us more than 10 hours starting from Bangalore. We drove through jungles, empty fields, remote areas and dangerous tiger reservoirs.
The first men who came from outside the village around 50 years ago was a doctor. It took him some time until he got the trust and acceptance of the tribe members. Once he treated a nearly dying boy, he deserved their trust and was welcomed by the people. That doctor decided to stay in that remote area and he stayed in a small hut on a tiny hill. He treated people in that tiny cabin he built himself.
The first and only school in this tribe, was also initiated and started by that doctor. He started to teach children of that tribe. And started to teach the adults to use their skills and products in order to get and exchange for other thigs from other villages and cities.
Now products are sold to the cities and they make a profit. Some examples are silk weaving, making honey, mid-wives getting properly trained to work in the new hospital (which is free for all tribals), or even collecting tumeric.
What that doctor started is now being continued by an NGO (Gorukana), which helps the tribals keep a sustainable lifestyle.
They have built a school for the kids who come from far away and therefore can stay overnight, and send an ambulance for people that are too far from the hospital.
There were some roads built where the ambulance could drive on. Distances are really big there, the tribal member sometimes have to walk hours until they reach the tiny hospital or school.
We stayed a week in BR Hills and were able to talk to one of the first students of that tribe. The first student of that doctor, who now is a doctor himself. Showing us around and having lovely discussions with us. We were invited by tribe members to their homes and tiny villages.
Little girl carrying her shoes
Walking around in the tribes and around the tribes in BR Hills, we came across a little girl (around 7 years old) who was walking to school early in the morning. She was such a beautiful girl wiht big dark eyes.
I noticed that she was not wearing shoes. The reason was not that she did not have shoes, no, because she was carrying her shoes in her hands. I was surprised and confused. I asked our translator if she could ask that girl why she was not wearing her shoes but carrying them in her hands.
That girls answer was heart breaking and so much of an eye-opener. She simply answered with a happy face, that those shoes were her first and only shoes she ever had and she wanted to have them as long as possible because she loved them a lot. She did not want them to break because then she would not get new ones. So she decided she would carry them and not wear them.
She made my hear melt. Everything until that point of my trip was fascinating and shocking at the same time. But that answer made me think a lot. And made me appreciate everything I have even more.
In all our busy lives we totally forget to be grateful. We tend to lose ourselves in more and more money, titles, and prestige. We are never satisfied with anything.
The goal of my post is to remind myself and others that we should be grateful for everything we have in life. And I would love to stimulate everyone to travel to BR Hills, forget about the Taj Mahal, and Goa Parties etc. Go and see the real India, go to less crowded and more beautiful places.