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Travel: Gandhi in the back of a truck.

McLeod Ganj, high above Dharamshala in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India is the home of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan school of Buddhism.

His Holiness escaped across the Himalayas to this region of northern India following the failed  Tibetan uprising against the Chinese in 1959.

The Dalai Lama lives in a monastery in this small mountainside town on the edge of the ever present snow-capped foothills of the Himalayas which set an impressive backdrop.

Part of the ritual adopted by Tibetan Buddhists is to ‘circum- perambulate’ the temple on a daily basis. A path has been built on the vertiginous slopes around the temple to facilitate this activity. It’s no mean feat. The inclines are steep and at nearly 7000 feet above sea-level, the air is thin for people not used to this altitude.

His Holiness is in residence and is teaching so the town is bustling. McLeod Ganj normally attracts visitors from around the world, monks, mendicants and just the curious. But, when there is the opportunity to see His Holiness and hear him speak… you can imagine the activity level in the town increases.

Setting off from a favourite coffee shop (Moonpeak Coffee – with the best Cafe Latte she has ever tasted, claims my wife Sue Naylor) the town is busy. Surprisingly though the path is quiet. Perhaps everybody is in the temple listening to His Holiness.

Dotted along the path, seats are positioned on which to rest and over 200 prayer wheels of various sizes exist to spin your prayers to heaven. Prayers are carved in stone and left around the path. Small stone cairns have been built along the edges of the path, a physical testament to the passing of many thousands of feet and to the beliefs held by the pilgrims. The sun is warm A street dog lays sleeping on the path. His head coloured red for the Hindu festival of Holi.

You find yourself sharing the path with sacred cattle, street dogs, monks, beggars, and troupes of monkeys cross the path as well as other pilgrims making their slow way around the temple.

Oh yes… about Gandhi.

 

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The Dali Lama and Gandi in the back of a truck at the start of the walk.

 

Documentary: Brick making in India.

Here in Europe, most bricks used for building are machine made with only special bricks being “hand thrown” – hand made.

If you are of a certain age you may remember LBC – London Brick Company – Flettons, or common bricks as they were called. Billions were made and laid after the war in housing projects all over the country.

The LBC common bricks were made in and around Bedford. As you drove down the M1  you could see dozens of chimneys in the brick yards churning out smoke making bricks from London clay. This clay had a carboniferous content so the cost of firing was less than conventional clay.

In India the process is somewhat different, using the “clamp” technique (which produces an intermittent type of kiln as opposed to continuous) to fire the hand thrown bricks. Labour intensive, hard work defines the process. The clay-rich soil is tempered by hand with water to make the mouldable clay which is then scooped up by hand and thrown into the metal moulds – hence hand thrown.

 

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Tempering the dry clay-rich soil to make the casting clay. Picture: PDBarton

 

 

 

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Hand throwing the tempered clay into the metal mould. Picture: Sue Naylor

 

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Hand throwing the tempered clay. The bricks she has made can be seen behind her. Picture: Sue Naylor

 

The mould is then emptied and the brick is dusted with sand before being left to dry in the sun for up to 15 days. The unfired brick is turned every so often during that time to allow uniform drying so as not to make the bricks distort whilst firing. Once more hard, back-breaking, manual work.

 

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The metal mould can be seen quite clearly here. Picture: Sue Naylor.

 

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Building the oven with the bricks to be fired. Picture: PDBarton

 

 

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Building in the wood used to fire the oven. Picture: Sue Naylor

 

Although there are some modern conventional brick ovens in India this “clamp” system is still widely used. The dried bricks actually make up the kiln itself. Wood is stacked in the bricks and the whole is covered with old bricks and a layer of earth before the fires are lit.

Once fired and cold, the bricks are removed and sorted.

Each person making bricks is expected to hand throw at least 1000 bricks a day. The pay for doing that is likely to be around 300 rupees a day – about £3.50 at today’s exchange rate – though the team work as a whole being paid around 2 rupees per brick for the whole process, end to end.

The dry weight of 1000 bricks is about 3.4 tons. When wet, they would be considerably heavier.

Pictures copyright Sue Naylor and PDBarton March 2017.