Thursday, December 19, 2013

Two and a Half Weeks at Sadhana Forest (Auroville, India)

I've always dreamed of going to India however I was a bit apprehensive about traveling there as a solo female travel and my parents were a bit unhappy with me for deciding to go there against their will.  That is why I decided to start off my two months in India at Sadhana Forest, a volunteer community that focuses on reforestation and water conservation.  I had heard about Sadhana Forest from a fellow traveller I met in Thailand who spoke highly of a region of South India called Auroville.  Sadhana Forest, a subcommunity of Auroville, is especially known for its' innovations in sustainable living and enivornmentalism.   I did a bit of research and decided it was a perfect way for me to ease into the hectic, aggressive intensity of India-- I would feel safe and comfortable with many other volunteers like myself and hopefully meet some people to travel with. 

It ended up being the right decision.  I was a bit worried that Sadhana forest would be too radical for me-- that the people woult be crazy hippies with extreme views and lifestyles.  When I first arrived I slightly panicked.  I walked into a large hut filled with about 30 people sitting in a circle eating breakfast who all said my name in unison when I introduced myself-- my worries seemed valid.  But I soon realized that the people and practices are not too extreme and just enough "out there."  For just over two weeks I lived an extremely simple and sustainable lifestyle that was not only easy to adjust to but extremely enjoyable. 




We had to pay about $4 a day for food and work around 30 hours a week. I would imagine the collective community structure is similar to a Kibutz in Israel (Sadhana was founded by an Israeli couple).  Here is an example day at Sadhana Forest:
  • 5:30am-- We are woken up by one or two volunteers who go around to the huts and sing a song or play an instrument (the short term volunteers sleep in one big dorm-style hut)
   
  • 6:00am-- Morning circle: The community gets in a big circle to stretch and occassionally play a game or sing a song.  The circle is always ended with hugs (yes I know it sounds ridiculous but you get used to it)
  • 6:30am-8:00am-- First Seva: Seva means Serivce in Sanskrit. The volunteers either plant trees in the forest, help prepare breakfast or work with the compost (which I did for one week)

  • 8:00am- 9:30am-- Breakfast: all the meals are organic, vegan and non processed and are amazingly delicious
  • 9:30am-12:00pm--Second Seva: Miscellaneous activities such as cleaning toilets, working in the garden, cleaning up after breakfast, preparing lunch, collecting fire wood, cleaning the solar panels, etc.

  • 12:00pm- Lunch
  • 1:30- 7:00pm-- Free Time! (Unless you have an extra seva like cooking dinner). During the free time you can go into Auroville, swim in the mud pool, relax or participate in some of the volunteer-run workshops such as yoga, meditation and belly dancing

  • 7:00pm--Dinner

  • Evening Activity-- Each day of the week there is usually an evening activity such as the sharing circle, the non-talent show, and vegan talk.


We had weekends off (except for occassional extra sevas) and Thursday nights we went into town for dinner.  Some highlights of my days off were seeing a Tamil move at the Pondicherry movie theatre and slowly learning about some of South Indias traditional dishes.


Overall my experience at Sadhana was wonderful. The things that I thought would be difficult such as the cold bucket showers, the squatting compostable toilets and the strictly vegan diet were actually quite easy.  As someone who is considering going into the sustainability field as a career this experience was invaluable.  It is one thing to read about a sustainable lifestyles but is is another thing to live and experience it.  I need to practice what I preech.  The people at Sadhana Forest made my experience extra special.  It was a nice mix of foreigners, Indians, young travelers and whole families. I was beyond lucky to meet two lovely girls to travel with for the next two weeks and I made many more friends that I hope to keep in touch with.






There are of course a few things about Sadhana Forest that are not perfect, or at least not to my taste.  I didn't love the larger community of Auroville which has a creepy/ imperialistic feel to me, but I did not spend enough time there to  truly make a judgement.  I don't completely agree with Sadhana's philosphy on raising children which is called   "unschooling"  however I do see how some aspects of it are beneficial.  I also feel that there was somewhat of a divide between the long term volunteers and short term volunteers however this is innevitable and no ones fault. Nonetheless, the community's pros extremely outweigh the cons and I hope to visit again in the future.

For more information about Sadhana Forest see the following link:
http://sadhanaforest.org/

For a short video that gives a good idea of what an average day is like, see the following link:
http://vimeo.com/80587345




2 comments:

  1. Hey Jessica,

    Trust all is well! Seeing these photographs brought tears to my eyes!
    Sadhana Forest :) Can't live with it, can't live without it...

    Was trolling the internet looking for the Sadhana Forest video made by some filmmakers while we were there, found your page and was like, I know her lol

    Anyway, hope all is well! Was really nice stumbling across this page!

    Cheers,
    M.

    ReplyDelete
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