For many of our children, it was the first time they had set foot out of Madanapalli, their first time on a bus, to the hills, a zoo, an aquarium, or to a nature study center.
With so much on the anvil, an animated group of seventy five 6-12 years olds from The Satsang Vidyalaya, Madanapalli, set out on a sunny Children’s Day morning to the ancient Horsely Hills. With bated breath and many a laugh , falling on each other as the bus negotiated hairpin turns to the 4000 feet high hills, the children took in the onset of cool air and dense greenery.
First stop: Animal Park. The group marched past gazelles and spotted deer to the bird enclosures, marvelling at the strange long necked gigantic creatures looking down upon them. Emus! Recovering from the steady stares of emus, the group headed towards an enclosure where the cacophony of geese, ducks, and swans drowned out the voices of even our most robust-lunged children. Aping the dawdling walk of their webbed feet friends, the children took in peacocks, pheasants, parakeets, and rabbits and star tortoises, observing in wonderment, the collection of animals they had seen mostly in books.
Next came the crocodiles: one adult and two younger crocs basked in the sun not batting an eyelid at the suddenly quiet group around the enclosure. The children could not believe the animals were alive, still as the crocodiles were, frozen in majestic poses. They gaped at the ridged hides, stony eyes and the long jaws and sharp teeth of the crocodiles. Suddenly, the adult crocodile made a dash for the water, swinging its powerful tail. The children squealed in delight. The crocodiles were alive after all!
The aquarium with an assorted collection of angel fish, gold fish and tiger sharks was next. The children’s first experience at an aquarium was marked by noses pressed up close against the tanks and gesticulating excitedly at the myriad hued fish.
A short walk down a forested lane and we came to a clearing in the woods: The Nature Study Center of Horsley Hills. Housed in a high ceilinged colonial building with large arched windows, The Nature Study Center houses a small but well curated collection of natural life at Horsley Hills. Automatically assuming hushed tones, the children took in the posters and specimens on display: stuffed leopards, a black bear and its cub in the act of pawing a honey comb, a 14 feet python skin, an embalmed bust of a wild buffalo and a crocodile hide. The children were soon buzzing with questions. Would they encounter these creatures outdoors? How was it that the animals looked so real? Teachers decided that lessons on taxidermy, amongst other topics were in order.
With minds and appetites whetted, the group headed to the Governors House built by Mr. Horsley, a British officer, who commissioned the limestone bungalow in the 1800s. Seated neatly under the sprawling verandah, surrounded by eucalyptus trees, the children enjoyed their lunch of lemon rice and coconut chutney, but not before the sudden quiet that sets in before they say their prayers.
Then, it was time for fun and frolic in the park, tumbling down hills, playing throw-ball, skipping rope, dancing and singing with their friends and teachers all while eating oranges and sweets.
A guided tour of the ancient Mallamma temple was next. Legend has it that the peoples of these hills were protected by a woman who grew up in the midst of elephants. Since her sudden disappearance, she is worshipped as a goddess. Imaginations fired while looking at the elegant white deity, many a conversation through the day was focused on the legends of Horsley Hills.
Next up, a forest trail with flowers, a large bee hive, butterflies and eagles, before we unexpectedly hit upon a spectacular vista of rolling hills and valleys for as far as the eyes could see. Some children took to the view immediately. Others were terrified at this first experience with the great, wild outdoors and they fled to safer grounds. A steep walk later, the children gasped at another view point: tall trees, chirping birds, colourful flowers, large clouds, and crisp fresh air. It was perfect.
As we settled down under a large banyan tree for an afternoon snack of cake and chips, we were joined by swinging monkeys amidst peals of delight from our own imps.
We teachers were awfully proud of our brood: not one child teased the animals or fed them. Six hours outdoors and not one child had littered or plucked flowers. They even helped load the bus for the trip back. Could we have asked for more?
In the bus, the children became naturally silent. It had been a long day, a long journey into the unknown.
Just as they were dozing off, the bus driver played a song. That was end of silence: seventy-five re-energised children began singing and cheering before breaking out into dances and whistles amidst applause from teachers and friends alike.
It was the most befitting end to the day of many firsts.
-The teachers of The Satsang Vidyalaya