This month, we welcome Nikita Verma as our guest blogger. She is an active bB member, and here, she writes about her experience while testing bB's Winter Home in Uttarakhand.
After our first Winter Home prototype was successfully field tested in Bangalore by a homeless family, we decided to take the second one to North India and try out its winter endurance. End of February- Spring season had already dawned in the Northern Plains. Hence it was decided to test our prototype up in the Himalayas to get a fair inference.
24th February, 2015-
After a 12 hour journey of train and winding roads from Delhi, I reached my destination- Almora in the state of Uttarakhand. At 5400 ft. above sea level Almora is a quaint little town nestled in the hills of Kumaon. Almora has a temperate climate. The winters are cold and sunny during the daytime while the nights are very cold with temperatures falling below the zero degree mark. Snowfall during peak winters is common.
I decided to set up the tent on the roof of a friend’s cottage in Kasar Devi Village- on the outskirts of Almora. A place also known for Crank's Ridge, just outside the village, was a popular destination during the Hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and continues to attract trekkers and tourists, both domestic and foreign. Through the 1960s and 1970s, the area was visited by personalities of the counter-culture, Bob Dylan, Ross T Fullerton, George Harrison and Cat Stevens, Western Buddhist Robert Thurman, and writer D. H. Lawrence in search of spiritual inspiration. And now bB is here to test out our Winter Home under the starry sky with drafts of fresh air to breathe.
25th February, 2015-
After spending a couple of hours in the town’s market gathering UPVC pipes and joints, I started assembling the framework on the terrace around lunch. It took me less than an hour cutting the pipes to get the right sizes and assembling the entire tent.
All ready to be user tested, I fetched the ground mats and rest of the bedding. Windows rolled up and flaps closed- there was sufficient light inside to be able to read comfortably. The interior of the tent was quite cosy in spite of it being windy outside.
During the night hours the winter home maintained temperatures 2 to 3 degrees Celsius higher than the outside without using any heating gadgets. It was 12˚C inside and 9˚C outside at around 9 PM and 12 ˚C inside when it was 8˚C outside at around 5 AM. These temperatures were a result of one or two user occupancy. With an entire family using the tent, body heat released and thus trapped would be higher. Moreover, one was protected well from the chilly winds and drizzling outside.
26th February, 2015-
I woke up to the sound of rain tapping against the tent canvas. It was a delightful moment to open the front flap of the tent and see the clouds play hide and seek with the sun rays above. I wondered if it’s really a work trip with me camping out under the spirited sky surrounded by Pine trees and ever so simple natives. They would often stop by the cottage with curious eyes as they would catch a glimpse of the Blue and Yellow tent from uphill.
It was 11 ˚C Celsius inside, a welcome 2 ˚C higher than the outside at 8:00 am. One did not realise the cold wind blowing outside at all. The weather forecast said the wind gusts were at about 15kmph. The sky overcast and power lines shut down, it was going to be laid back day in the village.
The outdoor temperature plummeted to 8 ˚C at around 11 in the night while the temperature inside maintained at 11 ˚C inside. The tent had stood strong enduring an entire day of heavy rains and wind. The bedding and inner surfaces were as dry as before, with not a single drop of water leaking in.
27th February, 2015-
Day 3 of living in the tent and day 2 of incessant rains. Water had seeped in a bit below the ground mats from the sides, but the bedding and surfaces were absolutely dry. It was 8 ˚C inside at 5:00 am while outside the temperature had dropped to 6 ˚C.
I pondered about the distress homeless people go through surviving the winter chill. Their bedding and belongings often getting wet in the rains- not drying for days during foggy periods. With the wind brushing against them in such a situation, it’s impossible to be able to work and earn a regular income. This in turn further diminishes their living and social conditions. A proper shelter is probably the first step towards eradicating poverty, as education and work would follow only once the worry about where to sleep at night is overcome.
While the sun made its way through the clouds at noon, I took a little break from my new home and decided to walk down the village market. I spent my day answering the villagers’ queries about bB’s project. They mentioned how such a home would have been useful during the 2013 floods in Uttarakhand which had left thousands of families both tourists and locals without a shelter on their heads.
Towards the end of the same year, 9000 families were displaced and left homeless during the Muzzafarnagar Riots in Uttar Pradesh, India. Hundreds of children from these refugee families perished within a week of peak winters. bB’s Winter Home would be a life saviour in such situations, providing hope and safety for better futures for these communities.
As the sun set, I took leave from the friendly hamlet and returned back to the winter home, continuing with my readings and observations. The sky was cloudy again. And temperatures were expected to fall during the night as per forecasts from the met department. At around 8:00 pm it was 11 ˚C. The tent had not been used since quite some time, and no temperature variations were recorded immediately. By 10:00 pm, it was 12 ˚C inside and 10 ˚C outside and 9 ˚C and 7 ˚C respectively at 3:00 am. The heavy rain beating on the canvas was a little noisy though, but nevertheless one was safe and comfortable inside.
3rd March, 2015
After days of rains and outcast sky, the temperatures had dropped to 5 ˚C. The winter home was able to maintain 7 ˚C inside, without any other aid. Using an infrared heater for an hour, brought the temperature difference to 10 ˚C as the insides reached at around 16 ˚C which was maintained for another four hours after turning off the heater. The tent had shown stability during all these windy and rainy days, better than expected.
After about a week of living, perhaps camping in bB’s winter home, it was now time to pack it up and return to the tedious city life. The tent had passed its first winter test better than our anticipations and it was time we move ahead with the project- which is a lifesaving intervention that can prevent deaths due to winter chill amongst homeless. At the same time it is affordable, easy to build and has the ability to localize the entire manufacturing- which means empowerment for local communities.
While a lot needs to be done to overcome poverty and the homelessness crisis, bB is taking the first step to provide adequate shelter to the deprived, hoping to provide a roof to everyone on this planet.
- Nikita Verma
Nikita is a graduate from School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. She has previously worked as an intern in Gangtok, Chennai and Chandigarh and has been part of various architectural documentations and studies around the country. She is an ardent supporter of sustainability in all walks of life.
Nikita currently resides in Bangalore with her parents and three year old Labrador -Angel. She enjoys reading, travelling and swimming.