Originally published at buda-honnavar.blogspot.com
Dawn hit the Angadibail forest center, freshly dressed after its final construction, and stirred a frenzy of excitement for the day. Ashish began what would become his 24 hours as a chauffeur and went to pick up our participants. We all peeled back our layers of jungle which had built up in our previous days of preparation and took hold of the celebratory mood. We heard squeals of delight sound from the jeep, barreling down the red-dirt road. Our eccentric group poured out, wide-eyed at the landscape which they’d just been thrown into. Bharat’s flute hung over the place, the most fitting and soothing soundtrack you could imagine to first discover the beauty of the jungle. We greeted everyone warmly, arming them with our homemade soap-nut pouches and bamboo shoots of charcoal tooth-powder in our effort to keep the stream water clean which flows through the forest center.
After a brief exploration of the new center, we fed out hungry travelers (with plenty of jaggery for idly on their banana leaves) and challenged them to our first task of cutting down sugarcane. Just as the sun started its blistering effect on the forest, we set out to give pooja to the earth and began our harvest. We handled machetes and tried our best to cut and clean the sugar cane as well as Eshwarana had demonstrated. Meanwhile the four youngsters went back to the center to create their own statues of Ganasha for our final pooja after harvest. Our most experienced and enthusiastic participant in the harvest was Savita’s Appa by far. He held a wide grin and laughed joyously, reliving childhood memories of sugarcane harvests past.
After our sweaty efforts, we hauled what sugarcane we harvested back to the center and cooled off with a glass of kokum juice. We had a beautiful (thanks to those artistic Ganesha figures) harvest pooja where we thanked the earth for letting us take her fruits. Everyone enjoyed a cool stream water bath and we settled into lunch, again filling our banana leaves with jaggery-flavored dishes. After a nap and some quiet time, I headed out to the house where we’d be camping/watching jaggery production with Poornima to put some last minute touches on our festival area. Meanwhile everyone at the center revved up for the site-visit by watching a cooking demonstration of Bangli Rotti, a local cake-like jaggery treat.
Ashish managed to get everyone in the truck and the participants arrived at the campsite with anticipation and eagerness to participate. We fed them the traditional roasted peanut and jaggery snack to welcome them to the house and quickly made our way down the road to see the traditional style jaggery production before dusk. There, many local friends and villagers joined us in the celebration of traditional jaggery processes. The bulls that pulled the gaana were calm but monstrous in size. The farmers guided us on how to push the other side of the gaana and quickly the children and a few brave participants (shout out to my fellow students) joined in on the work. All the while we sipped fresh sugarcane juice which our hosts poured for us abundantly.
We were just in time to see the farmers take the sugarcane juice which had been cooking in an enormous vat over a large fire and filter it through cloth. We could smell the caramel-like aroma of the finished jaggery and soon we were served a healthy dose of the stuff which we hesitantly slurped down, trying ignore our bodies cry of: enough sweets! But the local treat was just too good for any sane sweet-tooth to turn down. As the sunset left us with a pink sky, we walked back to our campsite to continue the festivities. There at the house, we ran three stalls: 1) a bottle rope-wrapping station where participants decorated recycled bottles to fill with jaggery 2) a cow/bull bell beading station and 3) a cooking demonstration of a crispy crepe-like jaggery treat, todedevu. As the crickets began their symphony, we quieted down from our bustling day and enjoyed sitting still, working with our hands. Soon everyone had crafts to show each other proudly. We leisurely had our dinners and the strongest among us even ate more jaggery treats. A bonfire crackled by the tents and once by one we trickled down to sit by its warmth and hear stories and songs from each other until sleep took us over.
A dewey morning came and we had everyone russle up their belongings to head to the location of a house that did mechanized jaggery processing. Sleepily, we somehow piled even more people and items in the truck and bounced along the back roads through the sweet-smelling jungle. Our new hosts welcomed us and led us to their processing site where we learned how the modern, mechanic technique works. More sugarcane juice and the caramel-like taste of the jaggery ‘cream’, filled our mouths with sweetness again. We sat down to a breakfast of jaggery dosa and green chutney as the sun began to heat up. After a farewell, we piled back in the truck and headed toward a near-by water fall. Our short trek to the falls was full of wonderment as we stared up at the beauty of ancient trees and playful, vibrant flowers. At the sight of the falls we were elated, a few of us unable to contain our excitement and jumping in right away. The water was cold, even by Luci’s Minnesotan standards, but it came as a relief to the sun, humidity and layer of camping we’d acquired.
Smiling and soggy, we came back for our final meal together at the forest center. We chatted, napped and reflected on our journey. We came together to share our favorite moments and everyone got to try the bangli-roti they’d learned to make the afternoon before. As a parting gift, we gave out jaggery recipe booklets filled with traditional delicacies our friends could try to make at home. A successful first annul jaggery festival had us already planning for next year. The weekend finished as it had begun, with smiles and sweetness flowing between BuDa friends in the forest.