if and when ....

I'm just back from Mirzapur, the home of handmade carpets and rugs. An amazing experience in which I got to see the entire process of designing, manufacturing, packaging and exporting handmade carpets and rugs! What I didn't see was the actual "knotting" process done in the deep rural areas by artisans with hundreds of years of tradition. One of the most exciting parts of my trip was observing how the age-old, hand-rendered design diagrams were now created on computers and plotters the size of which I had never seen earlier. Looking forward to seeing how the artisans match each colour and knot in a carpet with the computerized design. No wonder it takes months (even years) to make a carpet.

11-Aug 08:30 PM
Kanchakanya express to New Jalpaiguri. Interesting journey with three Nepali middle aged ladies on their way to Kalimpong and a Bengali IBM Engineer with family on his 4th trip to the hills. Carrying lots of baggage and tons of polythene. Train one hour late - only.
12-Aug 08:30 AM
Reached NJP in a bandh. Met Gautam Dawa who took me by backstreets to Yuksam via stops for breakfast and lunch of pork momos at Legship. Gautam would make a good master trainer for tourists - has in depth knowledge and goes out of his way to pass on info and solve problems.
12-Aug 03:00 PM
Reached Yuksam, met Kinzong (secy KCC) and booked into Yoksam Residency. Then got a download about KCC and other details from Kinzong and UT Bhutia, member. Visited the KCC office and saw the work currently being done there. Kinzong is a walking encyclopedia on Yuksam and its problems. One of the founders of KCC, a local voluntary org. KCC office being built with NGO project funding, lots of room for training and development.
12-Aug 05:00 PM
Went to Coronation Throne with U T Bhutia who explained the basis of Yuksam being the first capital of Sikkim 1641 AD. The story of Yuksam being the meeting place of three sacred Buddhist monks who met here to appoint the first king of Sikkim, was told in great detail by UT, my guide for the moment.
Saw the CSC office, closed. Had roadside beef momos with a bunch of girl footballers from Yoksam School - the Shya Palay looked good. Will try some tomorrow. Raining a lot, got pretty wet, bought an umbrella. Thank God I brought the leather shoes and not the tracks suggested by the family. Hard climbing, out of shape - gasp! I'd forgotten that there were certain muscles that needed to be yanked out of sleep once in a way.
12-Aug 07:00 PM
Met Dhanraj Gurung (Red Panda), Jit Bahadur Gurung, Nawang Bhutia - all tour operators or guides; lots of inputs from U T Bhutia.
12-Aug 08:00 PM
Dinner at Hotel Yangrigang - owned by Nawang Bhutia, guide and tour operator. Beef Gathuk. Went back to Yoksam residency - no water, no reception! And NO INTERNET
13-Aug 08:00 AM
Checked out of Residency, moved to Yangrigang. Nice rooms, good reception, no TV. Had Tibetan stuffed bread and omelette. Awesome. And INTERNET but very very slow
09:00 AM
Met a tour operator, gave my questionnaire. Took cross country trek with Nawang to the beginning of the Khangchendzongpa National Park. En route met UT and saw the Waste Management Units, handmade paper unit
Met Doma Tshering Lepcha, admin at the district office - got info on issues, permits, took pictures of all the documentation requirements (can be used to train guides)
10:30 AM
Met District Forest Officers - Tshering Pintsho and Sangay Bhutia - detailed discussions on some areas of concern for trekkers and guides. Lunch with the Forest Guards as well as Kinzong, UT.
02:00 PM
Back to Yangrigang for a rest - raining incessantly. The whole family is making national flags on the dining table while a couple of the girls are outside cutting poles for the flags.
03:00 PM
UT says we have to go to visit the Home Stays - so we set off with umbrellas, camera and file. First stop is at Tamding Bhutia's - he is a guide, a home stay operator, owns a restaurant and owns a pony as well. One of the few graduates I have met. Also met Passang, a bird trail guide (specialist). Excellent inputs. Passang Tshering, very experienced bird trail guide - good master trainer material.
04:00 PM
Another long uphill and rocky hike for almost 30 minutes, straight up in pouring rain, narrow rocky pathways, overgrown on either side! To Ezam Cottage, tucked away in the hills. Run by Doma Subba in her in-law's house. Delightful experience. Got to meet Till - one of the daughters who now works in Italy in the hotel management industry along with Doma's husband and another sister. This is really a different kind of homestay - totally dedicated to traditional hospitality, vegetarian food and an outhouse toilet ... as in "out" and down a flight of stairs, across a small courtyard. They arrange traditional dances and folklore for tourists who want to see them. Guests are expected to help with the kitchen garden, milk the cow and collect firewood if they want to eat!! Some amazing hospitality and friendship though they didn't know me at all.
06:00 PM
Left Ezam in pouring rain. Dodging leeches in an overgrown path, hopping from rock to rock with my pants tucked into my socks … balancing an oversized umbrella in one hand and the camera in the other. Raindrops the size of marbles see no resistance in the chinese fabric of my umbrella and dive right through, hitting me happily on the head. Back in Yangrigang and intermittent power cuts ... in fact, so intermittent it's beginning to look like a disco. So, on goes the headphones and music while I type. Sikkim Rum, beef momos and thukpa - dinner.
08:00 PM
Uden Bhutia, Treasurer of KCC and Kinzong's sister dropped in. Very passionate about the work. Some insights that the guides from North & East Sikkim (Gangtok) are the ones who need to be trained as they don’t have the information on West Sikkim and do a poor job.
14-Aug 09:00 AM
Meeting with the committee members of KCC - Pema Bhutia, Chewang Bhutia, Uden Bhutia and UT. Discussed concepts of eco-tourism and the proposed action plan for training.
11:30 AM
Visited the Yuksam school with UT and Uden. Met the Principal, Mr Acharya, who put me in the front row … had to leave because I was heading back to Gangtok. Missed the program but got the full brunt of the political speech! All in Nepali, of course, so floated over my head in a wall of sound and fury ... signifying importance of sorts.
01:30 PM
Left for Gangtok after searching for my driver for 45 min. He was so absorbed by the spectacle at the Yuksam school that he forgot he had to drive me. We had to take the alternate route via Pelling and Rimbi as the original route was blocked. An amazingly spectacular route where we played games with the clouds — driving below, then through, then above them. Visibility shrunk to a few feet and the road was full of potholes and rushing waterfalls. Headlights dont seem to have much say in the matter either. Bal Bahadur Misra, an expert driver, made short work of the mountains.
Interesting extra : one of Bal Bahadur's friends with wife and 8 year old daughter had come to Yuksam to have the kid treated for jaundice. The hospital turned them away as they did not have the medicines. Bal Bahadur gave me the story and said that they were walking back to their village - a distance covered in 6 to 8 hours! Then we saw them on the road. I offered them a lift for some way. When we left them they still had an hour or two to walk - a sick child, a mother and father. Broad smiles, thanks and no concern about their difficulties. We have a lot to learn.
07:30 PM
Reached the Basi Kothi guest house, checked in, relaxed …. Tour is virtually over. Tomorrow we celebrate Independence day.
15-Aug 08:00 AM
Exciting time .. Locked in with God. Went to the St Thomas' church above Ranka taxi stand. Mass was over and being Independence day, there was no other mass slated for the day. So, I knelt down to pray, got slightly involved … church was locked behind my back. Managed to get to the main gate and signal for help. A passing stranger explained how I could find a back entrance that goes under the church and exits near the main street ... phew! Now it's back to the guest house and lunch with the boys (Hotel Potala - fried pork and beef momos, a Dansberg, mixed Gathuk), then shopping for their stores and rest.
06:00 PM
Heavy rains. Tomorrow's trip to Bagdogra could be more than eventful. Let's hope and pray.

So, who cares if we're a hop away from Pelling, the paradise of the domestic tourist (read: the travelling Bengali)?
So who cares if we are the gateway to some of the best trekking experiences in Sikkim?
So, who cares if this is the first capital of Sikkim, 1641 AD?
So, who cares if a pack animal (pony or yak) dies of accidental or natural causes on a trail?
So, who cares if you throw a used maggi packet or tin can on the trail down from Dzongri?
Yuksam cares, that's who. Yuksam, a small sleepy town at the foothills of the mountains of West Sikkim. Yuksam or Yoksum or any combination of English vowels ... who cares?
It means the same "yok" - meeting place of "sam" - the three monks. The story goes that these three holy and mighty monks, after several prayers and sacrifice, all arrived at this designated holy spot to further pray and then appoint the first king of sikkim in 1641-42 AD.
I drove through Pelling ... a messy aggregation of over 80 hotels juxtaposed against each other ... and a promised view of the various mountains in the Khangchendzonga range. But a must-stop for the domestic tourist. Hotels are run by various people from states around and even distant. Yuksam has maintained its cultural identity by stiffly resisting any attempt by non-villagers to open hotels and restaurants in the village.
Yuksam wants to know how we can educate our trekkers to "leave nothing behind but your footprints" — in scouts we had the phrase, leave nothing behind but your thanks! So, KCC has organized a massive waste management system where every bit of possible waste such as tins and bottles are registered on the way in and on the way out ... and there is a stiff fine if anything is missing. My guide shared with me that they have not been able to collect the fine of Rs 5000 yet ... no one has left anything behind but footprints! Great work!
If a pony or yak dies on the trail, for whatever reason, the group of pack animal operators contributes Rs 200 per family to help the owner to bear the loss and rebuild his capital. This happens even if a human being in the village dies — though the contribution is Rs 50. But people are allowed to contribute more if they want.
I am humbled ... Yuksam cares!

Just back from a pretty interesting and exhausting trip to Assam. Building a training program for Govt Teachers along with IL&FS Education. This trip was to field test the training modules created in English, Maths and Science with the future Master Trainers.
A highly committed group of young and not-so-young people from the different academic branches got together for a five-day session where they underwent training in modern methods of delivering their own subjects and a healthy dose of "generic teacher training".
The group enjoyed the experience including struggling with some of the headier concepts like Learning Styles, Maxims of Teaching, Bloom's Taxonomy in Action and Maslow's motivation theories and their relevance to the classroom.
Remains to be seen how the group takes it forward and trains the hundreds of Govt teachers in the districts.
Work with a Social face!

The beginning of this week was an exhilirating experience for me. A group of 23 engineers from a very respected engineering consultancy were brought together to undergo the first of my programs where we look at building knowledge sharing skills.

The big difference for me was that for once I was not "Training the Trainer" but helping hard core engineers to gain some training skills so that they can use their expertise to develop fresh employees. This is so much more useful than popping into an organization, doing an off-the-shelf course and disappearing. In this model the people who understand the content and skills best, the senior executives, are given charge of inducting and training the future workers. All they felt they needed were some pointers on how to make their training more effective, interesting and productive. We did all that and more, minus the lectures.

We went through multiple exercises and some of the big take-homes were expressed in writing ... here are some:

"I liked the way the trainer got the participants involved ... giving opportunities to each and everyone to interact and finally taking stock of what we learnt ... This is fantastic!"

"Sense of humour of the trainer ... this is the first training program where I didn't feel sleepy."

"I liked the content in the program and the technique of participative learning."

On the invitation of the Directors of Luxmi Tea Company, I took a trip across to Shyamguri Tea Estates in Assam. My first visit to a tea estate!
A longish 4 hour drive from Guwahati at night, a warm welcome from a gathering of estate managers and other VIPs from around the area and a quick biryani dinner ... then a luxurious bath and crash into a kind sized bed. The Brits ensured the continuation of comfort, for sure. My host, Dulal Gogoi, was more than hospitable, plying me with lovely pork sausages and an English breakfast on day 1 and an Indian breakfast on Day 2.

Early morning tea on a trolley and a productive day with the managers and assistant managers of the group estates, exploring learning needs, company culture and the unique world of the tea planters! For many it was a first time discussion.

This was followed by an extensive tour of the tea estate in a 4-wheel drive with two passionate and excited Managers - Mr Debnath and Mr Poddar. A walk through the nursery first and then through the entire process of tea planting, growing and manufacturing. A great experience and I didn't carry my camera!
The one blot on the horizon was Aircel who cut off my only communication line without ceremony. Not all that bad since I was forced into "rest" mode!

The first 24 days of my being self-employed has been exciting.

Working on a name and brand for my sole-proprietorship company has opened up depths of thinking I never imagined I would need to do working for someone else. Not having to take instructions and make reports has been replaced with planning and development of a niche business.

Sifting through the variety of capabilities that I have has been the most strenuous. Should I focus on training trainers only? Should I get back to corporate training where I had some of my best successes? Should I design content for other people? Should I train content writers to do it themselves? Should I engage with my first love, schools and school education? Or, should I write my book?

At any rate, it doesn't seem that there's a dearth of work, so I need to develop a focus and take on the consulting as it comes.

Sorry for being so uncreative ... borrowing a title from ITC at that. Well, I left IL&FS Education on Friday,had an emotional lunch for some of our old timers at my house yesterday and have been sifting through the response mails which are published in the Forums on my site.
It's been an exhilarating journey .. lots of ups and downs. When the downs looked a little too long I decided to side step and move into something different.
I don't know how this sounds to you but I feel there's a need for small companies who have grown on the way to relook at their man management systems and do something about their HR development systems. Even to put in a system where none exists. In the process some of the supervisors and line managers have taken roles of training and development of their teams. I hope to be able to help set up systems, build capacity in these people to train and transfer knowledge and skills.
Anyone who has a lead out there .... let me know.

Just got back from Hyderabad where I assisted in conducting a 4 day Sales Training program for pretty experienced sales persons from 5 states .... the big question I was asked was "How do you manage to do sales training when you have no background or experience in sales?"
That makes me think ... throughout my teaching and training life I have been conducting programs and watching others conduct programs without the "relevant experience and training" — in fact, many of the teachers who were really good in a subject had no previous understanding of the subject. So, I really don't have an answer as to how ... especially when trainees seem to feel that you have taught them more than whatever they knew before!
Would love to share your comments.

Swapan Seth, the ad-man, Xaverian and many other hats ... has written a book "This is all I have to say" — a collection of short essays on his life views. Written, very transparently, for his two pre-teen sons, it encapsulates a lot of wisdom in a very few words.
My personal involvement with the book is that my name is the only one mentioned ... as a teacher whose intended insult became an inspiration for him.
Am getting into a Q&A session with Swapan at The Park in Calcutta on August 19th at the book launch.

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