From the lowlands of Assam to the Highlands of Scotland

EXCHANGE VISIT #6: FIRST INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE

By Sukanya Saikia
Tea Research Association

When you see cows and goats roaming around or rather lazing around on the roads, creating havoc for the commuters, it’s Assam. But when you see sheep grazing in lush green highlands and cows that are very different from the ones you see back home, then wait, you are in Scotland! It’s time for the second exchange meet of the UKIERI project for the Indian team to visit the UK. Our visit lasts for three weeks starting at Edinburgh, Scotland. So this time it has been my utmost privilege to attend the World Water Congress XV held there by the International Water Resources Association (IWRA) from 25th – 29th May, 2015.

The grandeur of Edinburgh Castle (and the unpredictable weather!)

The grandeur of Edinburgh Castle (and the unpredictable weather!)

I would like to start with Edinburgh. As lovely as the name itself, Edinburgh is a thrilling city. The journey from London by train was striking as the train moved along the coast of the North Sea (of course you need to sit on the correct side of the train to get that view, and I am the lucky one in this case). Home to the Edinburgh Castle and many historical structures and buildings, all of which looked like castle to me, I had the most amazing time in those five days. Streets buzzing with people (mostly tourists) moving around, bagpipers playing, quirky shops, street performers, variety of cafes and Scotch whisky stores, cool breeze (I couldn’t find a stronger word for it, as it was freezing for me!), Edinburgh will win your heart at the first sight. It definitely will soothe your eyes almost immediately. And what added to my delight was that I could very well understand the Scottish accent! To take that to my credit, I would say that sometimes it’s very hard to comprehend (as told by my colleagues in England)! Moreover, working on climate, and not talking about the weather of Edinburgh won’t be fair. But what can I say about it…That’s the beauty about it; it’s so unpredictable that you can’t be certain about it. It’s sunny this moment and pouring the next! So take your raincoat and umbrella (which would just turn inside out; thanks to the wind) the next time you’re there..

Presenting our iPoster at the World Water Congress

Presenting our iPoster at the World Water Congress

Coming to the conference, I presented a poster entitled Climate-smart landscape management in North East India: determining the influence of climate variables on tea production under the session Climate Change, Impacts and Adaptation. The poster reflects the preliminary results of our analysis that we have undertaken for the North Bank tea growing region of Assam. It is my first international conference at an international location and also my first time in Scotland and the experience I would say is mind boggling! The sessions varied from transboundary water resources issues, water governance, the monetary and non-monetary aspects of water, climate change loss and damage in terms of water, management, food security, links with energy, food and environmental sectors and a lot many water-related issues. There were some special sessions on water and mountains, water-energy-food nexus etc. A documentary was also screened at the conference named as A Thirsty World which echoes the circumstances of people living in various parts of the world having access to very little water or no water at all. Besides presenting the paper, I felt that it opened a whole new set of opportunities in terms of networking with other delegates who have come from various parts of the world, working on a diverse range of topics. Knowing the views and arguments of such renowned scientists and professors is an excellent prospect in itself. I had to push myself to speak to such expert people, and set targets for interacting with as many people as possible. I even managed to get some business cards! Conferences like this provide a brilliant platform to build your own network for future collaborations and projects.

Me with a bagpiper at the Edinburgh Castle conference reception

Me with a bagpiper at the Edinburgh Castle conference reception

As part of the conference, some social events were also organized for networking. One such event was an evening hosted by the Congress at the 12th century old Edinburgh Castle where we had access to the inside of the castle! From the top the whole of Edinburgh was visible and the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful! We could see the Crown Jewels Exhibition, Queen Anne Building, St. Margaret’s Chapel and Jacobite Room. There were highland dancers and musicians performing. I must say that this was an exclusive opening for the delegates to soak up in the electrifying atmosphere. The conference as a whole was a grand success. Moreover, I also managed to take a highland tour starting from Edinburgh to the Cairngorms Mountains, Inverness, Loch Ness, Ben Nevis and Glen Coe. I would highly recommend anyone going to Scotland to take this tour. I was spellbound by the extent of green and yellow highlands and the friendly locals that greet you there! Also thanks to Fergus, our driver, for making the journey a very enjoyable one by narrating tales of kings and queens…

Next, I am heading to Southampton for two weeks to engage with our research. We will discuss the development of a DSS (Decision Support System) for our project, as well as fit in a couple of trips to visit Cornwall to speak to the Tregothnan tea estate manager and attend the Ethical Tea Partnership annual meeting in London. I am excited and looking forward to these events. I must extend my thanks Ellie for making me feel at home in the UK and arranging all our exciting work activities; Ellie and Niladri for being such supportive mentors; and to my new friends in Southampton – Patrick, Connie, Heather, Hayley, Vera and Serina – for baking wonderful cakes. This will be my last visit to the UK on our project, but I hope to come back soon. I will miss the wonderful people I have met and will cherish the rest of the time I have visiting on my last trip. Let me tell you I am having the time of my life; exchange programs like UKIERI definitely make your life worth living!

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