As we mentioned before, Auroville is like a University campus and every day there are a number of workshops and volunteering opportunities to keep you entertained and sane. These are 3 of our favourite experiences…from eco building to laughing our butts off:
J: Sacred Groves was especially interesting for me given my background in construction. More and more in the UK we are using sustainable alternative building materials and methods as it is becoming “trendy” especially as people are realising their carbon footprint.
At Sacred Groves they are trying to build housing for Aurovillians that not only look good but are also made in the most sustainable way possible whilst still using some traditional methods native to India.
For example, the houses are timber framed (palm wood, local to India and has a really lovely grain) with mud brick infills (made on site and very thermally efficient, to keep out the heat in India) and they are only using concrete where necessary like for balconies.
The houses are being built solely by volunteers which would explain why the first 3 houses took a whole year just to get watertight (quite like any council job in the UK). But the volunteers are learning valuable skills whilst they are there. I saw bathrooms and kitchens with polished plaster walls, they looked amazing but didn’t come out too well on the camera sadly. This is a skill that is highly sought after in the UK and people pay top dollar to get the effect.
It was interesting to see how they were working; it did however seem like they were making it hard for themselves. They were mixing lime mortar using the traditional method whereby a big circular stone is pulled around a trench whilst volunteers load the trench with materials and water. Traditionally this would have been done using an ox, but the tractor they actually used had pictures of oxen on the front, so I suppose that’s something. It does beg the question as to why they didn’t just use a cement mixer if they were using a tractor, but hey ho TII (this is India), a great experience and although I didn’t have time to stay and muck in it was interesting to see how others build.
Both of us had gotten used to having a lie in so when we were told that work at Buddha Garden started at 6:00am we were a little gutted. We managed to drag ourselves out of bed (reluctantly) and with bleary eyes made our way to the garden on our electric scooter (bonus eco points!) Buddha Garden is about 11 acres and run by an English lady called Priya. Her vision back in 2000 was to build a close knit community within Auroville (they just love communities here!) The idea is that you work for 3 or 4 hours and then enjoy breakfast together like a family that’s made from the harvested produce. It’s a great idea and is very popular within Auroville. Whilst we were there, we met volunteers from all around the world who each brought their own interesting ideas to the table, including water conservation.
Aside from the Indian norms such as rainwater harvesting and the saving of muddy water for washing tools, they are collaborating with Heriott Watt University, testing out different types of drip feeding for optimal growth. It’s not particularly riveting reading so we won’t go into detail, but needless to say it was interesting and saved a huge amount of water whilst also increasing crop yield.
One of the things that was intriguing was that the produce with the highest profit margin was micro greens which was also their biggest seller in the local restaurants. On the flip side, chicken spinach (it doesn’t taste like chicken much to Jack’s disappointment) was one of the most labour-intensive vegetables on the farm and only makes about 23 Rupees (30p) per 1kg. To put this into perspective, it took us 3 hours to crop, wash and bag up ready for selling. It was not satisfying work!
If you would like to watch us in action to show we’re not lazy bums (well, at least not all the time), please follow this link on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/buddhagardencommunityfarm/videos/2512911588762137/.
Where to begin…we were both intrigued, excited and very apprehensive all at the same time! Nikhil (our yoga guru) started the class by asking us to say our name, where we were from, and why we had decided to come. Jack couldn’t resist on using one of his (crap) gags: “because I thought it would be a laugh”. I’m not sure the Italians, Brazilians, Indians or Americans could quite understand our English sense of humour! It was an awkward beginning as nobody really knew what was happening!
We started role-play exercises which all had an underlying theme: to strip off our adult coat and play like children. Nikhil explained the act of behaving like a child would help us to loosen up and let go of any fears. It didn’t take long for Jack to start his infectious giggling as we had to make monkey-like noises and move our hands in circles. It was so so stupid and as soon as we looked at each other, we were off! Eventually the whole class was laughing, either at or with us we weren’t too sure! After each exercise, we had to clap our hands and say ‘very good’ and then jump in the air and say ‘yay’. It sounds so cringe looking back on it, but in the moment we had lost all of our inhibitions and felt so smiley and happy. Now we both know what Laughing Yoga is all about (sounds obvious we know!), we both said we would go back – so thank you Nikhil for the introduction!
Praise the Mother.
Next on Auroville Part 3: Solitude Farm and Sadhana Forest. Who knew we had so much to say about Auroville..!