The Himalayan Rocket Stove Workshop begins early morning in the rural town of Devarahubballi, about 11 kilometers south-west of Dharwad city. The Himalayan Rocket Stove team is here to impart their knowledge about creating smokeless stoves which emit eighty percent lesser smoke as compared to a regular stove and use eighty percent lesser wood.
Potters and farmers from nearby villages have assembled to educate themselves about smokeless chulhas (stoves) and how to make them. Our youngest participant is barely four yet the most enthusiastic.
After a long briefing, the participants are ready to get working on raw materials for the chulhas. This involves creating a mixture of straw, water, sand and puffed rice with soil. The puffed rice helps form pockets of air when the stoves are lit, becoming a key ingredient in the mixture.
The mixture is then moulded into a donut shape using metal moulds. These are placed under the sun to dry for the day. Once dry, these donuts will be stacked atop one another to give the stove the height it requires to become a rocket stove.
Our youngest learners are quick and eager to pick up techniques. Their favourite part is to stomp through wet soil to give it an even texture. They balance being involved between games of Land and Water and Chinese Whisper.
An area in the new kitchen is readied to have the smokeless stove installed. It will remain there for the villagers to use, so that the Himalayan Rocket Stove team can get their feedback as months pass.
Tanzin is from Manali and is the trainer in chief at the Himalayan Rocket Stove Workshops across India and soon, abroad. Photographed here, feeding twigs to the fire as the smoke rises up in the initial stages, explaining that as the stove is put to use it emits lesser smoke as time passes, to eventually become almost smokeless.
Photography for the Himalayan Rocket Stove Workshop spanning over three days, to document the process and narrative of creating smokeless chulhas.
Volunteer work for Himalayan Rocket Stove
I am keen to go with her. My apprehension towards volunteering is put to rest by a myriad of thoughts and causes I have always wanted to help with, but haven’t seen through, saving dolphins, taking care of strays, being more involved with ethical fashion than I am… It’s a long list. I tell myself that this is the year of change and with the words ‘Start somewhere’ beckoning me, I make my decision to go on a three hour road trip away from Goa, for three days without knowing what to expect. Armed purely with the intention of giving it my best skills and frame of mind.
Nitisha and I are accompanied by Tanzin, who has been working closely with Himalayan Rocket Stove since it’s inception. He is the one to instruct and educate the participants at the workshop step by step on the intricacies and details of building a rocket stove. A few minutes with Tanzin had me listening to stories of lost bears and tiny bear cubs mistaken for puppies, sinister goat breeding practises and homes buried under fifteen feet of snow. He is filled with tales from his hometown and a yearning in his eyes to do more for his people, the environment and his loveable forests.
As training begins, two objectives become clear. One, to make sure each one of the twenty five participants understood the method of making a rocket stove and two to educate every single mind about the physical danger and environmental damage caused by the stoves they have been using so far. Since most participants were either farmers or artisans, they were quick to pick up the former but the latter became important to make sure that an invention or change in the original design of the stove doesn’t defeat the purpose of the product.
It is inspiring to have eager minds ask questions, translated from Kannada to Hindi and vice versa until both parties were certain about being understood and correctly directed. Every day, apart from the activity of building the stoves, a couple of hours were spent discussing the environment and climate change, hunched backs and footsteps carrying loads heavier than they should, respiratory diseases caused by the smoke usually inhaled by women and children. Every discussion is a learning curve and I am glad to be the silent observer and a proverbial sponge looking to soak as much as possible.
By the third day, I have learnt the full process of making a smokeless stove, wandered through organic fields of many a farmers, finished reading a life changing book called ‘Beautiful Women’ by an NGO named Arz and attentively listened and reflected every single day. I step into the cab for the drive back to Goa and a sentence from the conversation of the past day lingers. A matter-of-factly stated truth about how an average woman who collects firewood regularly would have walked a distance equivalent to that between Delhi and Kanyakumari by the time she turns forty. Just to put things into perspective.