The team purchases the compressed stabilised earth brick press for the teachers quarters at Jamnya. Over a coffee in Melbourne, we discuss how to transport the brick press across India from Auroville to Jamnya, some 1500kms. It was critical that the press arrives by December so that bricks could be prepared in time for construction to start in January. We agree that the only way to guarantee that the press arrives in time was to pick it up and transport it to Jamnya ourselves. We were committed to the project. We were up for the challenge. It would be a fun roadtrip.
Ah, how naive we were.
Ah, how theory and practice differ.
After a long flight from Melbourne, Paul and I arrive in Chennai. We smile and gently nod our heads at the familiar smells and sounds of India – unbelieving that 11 months has passed since our previous trip. We are whisked 3 hours south to Auroville. Our friendly hosts at Pitchandakulum Forrest greet us upon arrival and we launch straight into training with experts from the Auroville Earth Institute. We soak in details on earth construction, learn how to use and maintain the earth brick press, and discuss the test results of our soil samples taken from Jamnya earlier in the year. The next evening we prepare the wads of paperwork required for the press purchase and transport. Our lorry truck arrives and our Tamil drivers load up the equipment for our road trip.
The next morning Paul and I jam into the front seat of the small lorry with our driver. Our second driver is wedged in the back of the lorry with the press and equipment – we nervously smile, wondering what we have gotten ourselves into.
We travel 1500kms across half of India to get to our destination. I try to practice mindful meditation to pass time, but am frequently shaken by the bumpy roads or by the discomfort of my sore butt. Paul navigates and tries to read. We are questioned numerous times by police and state border checks… Who seem slightly baffled by two foreigners in a lorry truck transporting a brick press across the country with two Indian men. The national highway gives us a maximum of 70km/hr, but most of the journey is bad gravel ditched roads at a painful bumpy 20-50kms/hr. We drive past banana and wheat farms, men urinating, herds of goats and cows, piles of rubbish, and small shady villages.
The country starts to look the same after a while. But one village would be well remembered – the one which our driver decided to pull into during the middle of the night. As our driver left the lorry to take a leak, two men on a motorbike in bandanas and clubs approach us…. My heart skips beat as I lock my passenger door. Luckily they were just checking our paperwork and we drive off safely. Supposedly it was quite normal for men to be out in the middle of the night wearing bandanas and balaclavas.
Driving all night and almost 48 hours since we left, we arrive in the mountains to be greeted by the local NGO. I have never felt so happy to see familiar and smiling faces. We unload the lorry, take several chais, and farewell our drivers who had a long journey back home. With the brick press at our side, we were now ready to start the real work and start making bricks.