I joined a walk on 24 July organised by Geeta Ludhra to celebrate South Asian Heritage Month, in the Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This was one of Geeta’s brilliant Dadima walks, to bring together people from different ethnicities to enjoy the beautiful landscape and to learn about the natural world. We talked about inclusivity and women’s rights, among much else. I learnt a lot.
We met at the usual spot, just off the M40 junction 6, and walked a short way up Hill Road and then east along the Ridgeway.
We arrived at the Aston Rowant centre, where we were offered drinks by Yaz Spark of Bubbles without Troubles. Yaz, who has experienced the devastating effects of alcoholism first hand, provides non-alcoholic, home-made, sparkling drinks, and gives six per cent of her profits to AlcoholChangeUK. The drink she gave us, which fizzed like champagne, was made from rosemary, apples, honey, vinegar, chickpea water, dandelion and ginger extract. Delicious!
Steph Wilson, who manages Aston Rowant, gave a brief talk about the reserve. ‘You own it’, she said, ‘so come and enjoy it’. It is chalk downland and a rare habitat, designated not only as national nature reserve, but also a site of special scientific interest and special area for conservation, with open access.
We walked a little way up the hill and sat on the chalk hillside studded with flowers, with a view over the escarpment.
There we were entertained, first by Subash Ludhra, Geeta’s husband, who spoke of his family history, and the importance of talking to family members, to pass on their stories to future generations. For instance, his father came from Punjab in 1963 to Hounslow and was the first Asian to have a shop in Hounslow selling jewellery. In India children are brought up by the village. Today everyone lives in silos. We need to share our ancestral wisdom.
Next was Angi who moved from Sri Lanka to the UK aged six in 2000. Now a doctor of medicine, at Southampton university she was delighted to meet students who were keen on Kandyan dancing, and they set up the Kandyan Dancers group. During lockdown they practised every day on zoom. She gave us an impressive demonstration.
Sarbjit Kaur Malhi spoke of her campaign to celebrate the birth of girls as equal to boys, particularly in the festival known as Lohri, You can read her blog here. An intrepid adventurer, she is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro this month with other South Asian women from Asian Women Mean Business.
Priya explained the healing and medicinal properties of the tulsi plant, which gives relief from inflamation and stress.
Sanjay and Radha told the engaging story of how they met in the mountains in India, when Radha had escaped to the mountains (against his parents’ wishes) and Sanjay was there on holiday.
Sati Kaur, a member of a writing group with Geeta, has recently published her book Expressions of my Truth, and she read from this. (The cover is of a scene near Datchet where she finds peace and tranquillity.)
Anjana Khatwa, an eminent earth-scientist, spoke of the stories told by rocks. I have written about her fascinating talk here.
The event closed with Dalvir Gill, a Punjabi grandmother, singing a traditional song in which the womenfolk teasingly get their own back on the men. We all joined in the chorus.
Then we returned to the centre to eat samosas, gujarati kachori, and barfi, and to drink Indian chai tea.
It was a day of colour, traditions, and a celebration of some very feisty women. Thank you to Geeta, and to all who took part.
How fabulous. You certainly do some interestesting things when you’re out and about. As an ex-alcoholic I’m heading over to her website next!
I am sure Yaz would be pleased to hear from you.