23 July 2013

This is my Mecca

The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) owns and operates four world centers:
Pax Lodge in London, England
Our Chalet in Adelboden, Switzerland
Our Cabaña in Cuernavaca, Mexico
Sangam in Pune, India
My dream has been to visit all four. I have visited Pax Lodge and Our Chalet multiple times. I took one step closer to reaching that dream, I had the opportunity to visit Sangam.

Sangam was opened in 1966. The foundation stone of the building was laid in 1962 by Dame Leslie Whatley and the opening ceremony was attended by Lady Olave Baden-Powell. The initial plans estimated that it would take only 8 months to build the center. The land that Sangam is on, was donated by the Indian government. Originally it lay far outside the city of Pune (pronounced Poona) but as the city has grown, it is now in the north - northwest part of the city. The name Sangam is an old Sanskrit word that means "coming together". It is very appropriately named.
The building is open and airy. The front of the building is made up of three distinct sections of arches. The first section has four arches, representing the four World Centers. The middle section, and main entry way, has three arches which represent the three parts of the Promise, our trefoil. The last section has ten arches to represent the 10 parts of the Guide law.

When one enters Sangam, they are greeted with cool, refreshing breezes blowing through the breezeway that opens to a lovely lush courtyard with pool. Several buildings surround the courtyard, the walls of these buildings are adorned with the logos of Guide and Scout Organizations from around the world. (Disclaimer: Some of these are now outdated). Sangam is huge, with gardens, a playground, a water tower, camp ground and space to relax. The water tower is a treasure, allowing Sangam to have access to fresh water 24-7. In India, it is common that city water access is limited to only a few hours a day and some days it is fully restricted. Sangam also has a backup generator for electricity. Electrical outages are a daily (normal) occurrence throughout India. Sangam also provides mosquito netting for the beds, as malaria can be a problem in India. This was my first experience setting up and sleeping under mosquito nets.

The front and back gardens of Sangam have Buddha statues to watch over the guests. The statue in the back has a rich history. The statue itself is so heavy, that it takes 15 men to be able to move it. When the statue was purchased, it was sent via train to Pune. Out of respect for Buddha, they purchased a first class ticket for it, and sat it in first class with its ticket in its hand! Originally this Buddha was in the front garden, but as the city was widening the road in front of the centre, there were worries that he would be damaged, so they moved him to the back. After the road works were complete they purchased another Buddha for the front.

I stayed at Sangam for two nights as an independent guest, but the staff was so wonderful and accommodating that I felt like I was there for a program. The food was delicious - typical Indian foods and I also enjoyed a bit of shopping at their shop, Yahdei (a Hindi word meaning memories). I attempted to complete the Sangam Challenge and earn a special badge, but my time was limited and I just didn't quite finish it.

My stay at Sangam was amazing. I will write about Pune and the program in which I participated with separate entries, but I want to close with two very special happenings.
There was a group of Irish Girl Guides visiting Sangam and taking part in the Centre's Program. The leader of this group was my friend, Lorna. Lorna and I met when we worked together at Camp Lachenwald in Germany in 1998. We had only seen each other once since then, in 2010 when I visited Ireland. It was great to see her again!

Tammy and I had an early train from Pune to Mumbai, and had to leave Sangam at 6:30. Given the early hour and the fact that we had only been there for two days, I was so touched by our send-off. The entire staff was awake and downstairs (yes still in pajamas, but they were there!). They pinned us with a special Sangam pin that is only given to center visitors, and as our rickshaw pulled away, they sang us the Sangam song. It was a very touching goodbye.

I have now visited three of the four World Centers. I think that Sangam has by far been my most enriching experience at a World Center. I hope to be able to visit Our Cabaña in Mexico and fulfill my dream of visiting all four. I am also determined to return to Sangam - next time for a full program with a group.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Pune, India

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