Halma Yatra – Reminiscences from a journey within…
Mukul Kaushik, IIT Roorkee, ARB Trading
20 MARCH, 2017

Halma Yatra
Water Conservation
Cultural Immersion

Several questions in our minds go unnoticed, but when we start listening them our mind start wandering for answers and often we end in dark. The world looks dark with black glasses on our eyes.

This yatra had been a beautiful voyage to individual’s inner self, so that we can find ourselves and the world full of love, motivation, positivity and opportunities by exploring the invisible existing connection to other individuals, but the question; ‘The connection of what?”, still persists there. How? And the answer is Empathy. Empathy Connects!

So, not diving deeper into the philosophy; I was with 29 other young and agile strangers on this reflective journey and these same strangers were emotional at departure station.


The story begins this way, one day, I just saw post for Halma Yatra shared by one of my friends. I browsed this link and first impression was, this was some kind of initiative to explore a place where people are challenging the problems and trying to solve them. So that, right kind of understanding can be developed in right minds.
I followed the application process and joined the journey. But very soon, first impression turned out to be only one of the major aims of this Yatra. Now, I have come back to my home, lying on my bed. it feels impossible to come out of nostalgia, it makes ecstatic about the memories we made, for the learning we had, the perception we shattered, the realizations we could come closer to and a lot more. So, I decided to put them into words because even ‘the faintest ink is more powerful than the strongest memories.’

DAY 1 | 3rd March 2017 | Gandhi Ashram, New Delhi

We reached a common place at around 4pm at Gandhi Ashram, New Delhi to know each other and understand the journey we are going to embark upon. The orientation session started with the explanation of the basic mindset behind Empathy Connects and brief introduction of Yatra. This was followed by few interesting games to break the ice between us. After playing those we were comfortable talking and laugh out with each other.

Everyone was so excited. People with cameras didn’t want to miss even a single memory un-captured. Then, few more people joined us on railway station and we started the journey in train at 10 pm. I personally love long train journeys with good company, because we all can sit together and talk anything right from poetry to politics, persons to philosophy, histories to future beyond imagination and right from nadir to zenith without worrying about usual time limits. The dark night and the twinkling lights from distant horizon, the breeze from the windows and the melodious rhythm; listening to stories of energetic people was never so spellbound. Believe me folks, it happened to be one of the best experiences in life. The people in the cohort came from diverse backgrounds altogether different dimensions of life with diverse personalities and experiences, for eg, few social entrepreneurs, an NRI exploring Indian Culture, a future politician, a theater actor, a trader, a businessman, an engineer, future civil servants, a poet and many more.

We reached Nagda station at 8 in the morning we were still a 4 hr drive from the destination. All our serious discussions were followed by namkeen poha, fried rice and laddoos. The limited quantity made it a lot fun to snatch away the food from your good friends and eat it. Yeah, we are good friends now 🙂

DAY 2 | 4th March 2017 | Nagda to Jhabua, The tribal terrains

Rest of the 4 hour journey was to be covered by road only. Travelling towards villages is itself a different experience. You observe how you are slowly leaving behind the chaos of the city and how deep inside a feeling of unexplainable peace is rising, where there is melody in the silence and you start hearing your thoughts.In afternoon, we reached our destination, Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh. This is mostly a tribal area but we stayed in a nearest town to the place of ‘Halma’, was going to be organized. This was our theme for the day. In lunch, we had the local food of that region.

Halma, is age old tradition of coming together to help a community member with his problems. This tradition is now organized as an annual event by the Shivganga, an organization working with tribals. Halma primary focus on helping mother earth out of her problem of water scarcity.

This event is a 2 day program on the first day (4th March) all the tribal gather in a camp. After that, they walk together around the whole town with Genti called Genti Yatra (an agriculture equipment like plough which is considered as the symbol of hard work). Their discipline, cooperation, coordination and hard work is commendable and can easily leave any outsider spellbound. You can get better idea about how energetic they are, when they shout slogans like, kaun hamara sukh daata- Dharti, Ganga, Gau Mata! Before genti yatra there is a session by Mahesh Ji, who is one of the founding members and leader behind this movement. His session on self-discipline, and a ‘Parmarth Bhav’ for development is eye-opening and fills up tribals with pride and motivation.

When belief in culture is very strong with a feeling of togetherness among individuals, it can do miracles and Halma was the live example of this.

The whole event is inspiration for many and embarks presence of many social leaders and motivated individuals. I found myself fortunate enough to interact with few groups and personalities. One of them was Parag Sir, professor at IIT Delhi. We interacted with him for half hour and the session was enlightening on how we in the urban setting can learn a lot from rural residents. That is where we need to put our lens aside and look from a new angle where we are the seekers of knowledge, the knowledge that has accumulated from a centuries of civilization flow. And these people are still preserving the practices and ambassadors of that knowledge.

Also, there was an NGO (Astha Gram Trust) working with specially abled kids in the tribal region (Wow!). They shared their story, the challenges they faced initially but how good things move forward automatically when you just keep putting efforts.

These kids with limited physical capabilities had an immense capabilities of empathy and understanding each other. Imagine a kid who can not speak is teaching alphabets to a kid who can not see. Can we imagine how??

We could feel the warmth of tears trickling down our cheeks.

We ended our day after this interaction and moved back to our base location in the city. There was a lot food for thought for everyone, we discussed certain things and relaxed.

DAY 3 | 5th May 2017 | Jhabua and Dharampuri                                                                                                       

We all walked together at around 6 in the morning on ‘Hathi Pawa hills’ where all the tribals gathered to make rainwater harvesting structures. After 3 hours of this exercise and interaction with tribals on the hill, knowing their motivation behind coming together was amazing. The important thing to notice is that the management done to arrange these 20000 people to do their tasks in three hours efficiently was wonderful. The zones were marked by different colored flags. We might consider them uneducated but my perception here was shattered, they were way more disciplined and intelligent in what they did. I have been a fest organizer during campus times and I remembered difficult was to handle events to such scale.

We also got a chance to meet a strong lady, Rama Dubey Ji, running a school called Kushagra Home School. They work for educating and consistently guiding parents about how a child should be raised for his holistic development can happen over a span of years. She believes that children can have faster multi-disciplinary learning in their early age from parents, family and society whereas schools limits their growth by curbing ad channelizing their curiosities to limited directions.

In the noon we we reached Shivganga’s ashram which was in a village 3km from Jhabua city. We discussed our observations and learnings within our group. After lunch, we had an interactive session with Mahesh Ji, the leader behind this movement. After seeing such kind of water conservation movement through community participation on a very large scale, we were surprised and had a lot questions in our mind. We discussed every aspect with him. He also shared his journey, how he started all this, challenges he faced during this journey and future aims.

In evening, we were free to roam around the village. We also had music and poetry session under a clear sky had a peaceful sleep.

DAY 4 | 6th March 2017 | Villages of Jhabua                                                                                      

Now comes the next morning, my personal favourite moment of this Yatra: waking up in the arms of the beautiful nature. It was so peaceful, so much soul satisfying that it is impossible to put it into the words.

This was our last day, we were yet to witness the tribal festival; Bhagoriya, which is a harvesting. This festival was in another village which took 2 hour journey from Dharampuri. After reaching to village we had roasted corn in the breakfast and headed for bath in a pond. After a lot of fun we had delicious local dish ‘daal paniye’ and local drink in lunch.

After that we reached this place Bhagauriya. We wore traditional bheeli turbans. That was really a joyful time for all of us.It was too hot outside but nothing could resist us from learning their local dance and moving our legs on the beats of dhol.

It was so fortunate to have an opportunity to see a totally different culture in the same country, Bharat we live in. After that, we again came back to Dharampuri village ashram and interacted with Harsh Ji who is another founder and guardian of organization. He himself is from tribal community and believe me it was a surprising to see his composure and entrepreneurial spirit. I could break another perception when I came to know that he did his masters from IIT Delhi in 1983-84. We were so engaged in discussion, we could come to a point of missing our train.

We finally reached Meghnagar station to spend last few hours of this yatra. It became dark and this time it was more calm just like after a joyful day there is an evening so serene and calm. But the energy was still at peak, we had bakar sessions, poems, jokes and what not. Although, it was not the first time we were interacting with each other but each one of us carried interesting stories. It was like the more I know them, I know how little I know.

DAY 5 | 7th March 2017 | Meghnagar to New Delhi                                                                                      

After the morning it was still 5 hours to reach New Delhi In morning we played Scavenger hunt in train. In this, we all had been divided into few groups and were asked to do few tasks which included collecting few items and talking to strangers and listening to their life stories. In short, it was a small overview of how empathy connects. After that we all shared our learnings from this game and overall learnings and reviews of this Yatra.

Last but not the least, Sugar cube, in this activity, we all had been given few coloured pieces of paper and we were free to write about any person and give this paper slip to the same person. Although, memories were so many that it was hard to summarise everything in few lines but sometimes, when we look back into our life, few pieces of paper mean more than the whole story. Anyways, we reached Delhi. It was the worst part of the whole Yatra time for Bon Voyage. We had the last group selfie, we saw each other with the deep eyes, hugged each other and came back to normal life routine.

For next few days, it was impossible for me to come out of this trip. But I was happy for the experiences we had and one thing I am sure of is that I have made few lifelong friends on this trip. Because in today’s world it is very difficult to find people with same mentality and true heart.


Thank you Empathy Connects!