Here’s a snapshot of the time we spent in Sadhana Forest and Solitude Farm, two very different places which shared the same ethos: nature knows best.
Sadhana Forest was a strange place; set up to try and reclaim some of the land that had been deforested around Pondicherry. Still technically part of Auroville, it is set away in what is now a beautiful tropical rainforest.
We had heard from several people about this place, shrouded in secrecy among Auroville where the people lived like they were still in the Stone Age. Thriving in the jungle outside of Pondicherry this community (there they go setting up more communities!) is trying to save land that was at one point was thought unsalvageable.
4 kilometres down a dirt road, well more mud than dirt as it had POURED with rain (it was coming to the end of the monsoon season) off the main highway near Pondicherry, we rode our electric scooter which was wholly not suited to mud, rain or off-roading but we managed to get there with only a few sketchy moments (Jack loved it, George did not!)
It’s exactly what you are thinking: tree houses, thatched roofs, completely off grid and self-sufficient. But their set up wasn’t basic, they had running water hand-pumped from the water table and they had electricity from photocells on the roofs of the huts (the only bit of advanced tech) that powered the lights.
To our shock the very first thing we were shown was the toilet arrangements or rather where they harvest their own poop that is eventually turned into manure and used to help plant trees. We were given a talk from an incredibly enthusiastic chap who finished his talk with, “if anybody wants to talk with me about poop later, I would love to hear from you”. George was in her element!
We had an interesting time; they went on to talk about how they had replanted all the forest and how they had done it. The sheer size and density of the jungle around the encampment is a testimony to the volunteers’ hard work. Sadhana Forest solely relies on the dedication and support of volunteers.
By the time our tour had finished it was pitch black so leaving on our E-scooter was even more treacherous, navigating onto the highway on the wrong side with huge trucks and only tea lights for headlamps was also a bit unnerving, but we are still here and we can laugh about it now. I’m not sure either of us would have liked to stay the night, as by the end of the tour the mozzies were out, and we were being bitten alive. Best of luck to the volunteers!
Solitude Farm was founded by an English chap called Krishna McKenzie about 24 years ago. He came to Auroville at just 19 years old and immediately knew this was the place he wanted to live. Brave man! He had no knowledge of farming or where food comes from but took it upon himself to live and learn from the locals.
At first, we were sceptical about what he had to say on the farm tour and thought it would be very “hippyfied”, but needless to say we were wrong. Everything he said made complete sense. One topic which we related to in particular was eating locally. Many people don’t know that most of the vegetation growing on our doorstep (quite literally) is in fact edible, tasty and even medicinal. If it grows locally it is also cheap to buy (or free to pick) and more often than not grows in abundance. A win win situation, especially for poorer rural families.
His approach to farming is entirely natural, in the sense that they do not plant anything in beds or use any chemicals. If a papaya tree decides to grow next to peppercorn then that’s nature’s way of saying this where I want to grow in order to survive and flourish. Because of this, his farm looks like a jungle, rich with plants, insects, flowers and fertile soil.
Strangely most of the vegetables they eat at Solitude Farm are classed as weeds, something which has negative connotations in the western world and here in India. Chicken spinach was a prime example. It grows everywhere in India and thus looks like a weed; it’s delicious in salads, curries and even smoothies. See picture below. Krishna is trying to educate the locals and change their minds in relation to this and to encourage people to grow some of their own food!
Krishna was so charismatic; we couldn’t help but agree with everything he said. If you would like to listen to his words of wisdom for yourself, follow this link to his Youtube channel:
Next: Pondicherry and Jack’s first time driving a tuk tuk!