Monday, September 24, 2012


An Eco-resort located between the eastern and western Ghats, in beautiful forest- Biligiri Rangan Hills, a 3 hour drive from Bangalore.

The location is beautiful!  Not only is it surrounded by nature, but what really is special about the place is the people that it this place supports, the Soliga tribe.  The Soliga tribe have been living on their own in the Biligiri Rangan Hills, for hundreds of years.  They are a beautiful example of people who know how to live one with nature.  Most all of their food comes from the jungle.  They do grow finger millet, but apart from this small organic growing operation, everything else comes from the jungle.    They used to be semi-nomadic - meaning they would spend one year in a location at a time, where they would farm millet and build temporary homes, although they are also completely capable of sleeping out in the open!

I met a few people from the tribe and I felt I was only bursting with questions.
They are very sweet, genuine warm hearted people.  I was about ready to move in!

They are so one with nature, let me list a few of what they had mentioned to me:
- They have a remedy for cobra snake bites, derived from plants, they learn how to stay calm
enough to not allow the poison to kill them for 2 hours, until they have access to a plant remedy.
  I had read that some 95% of people who die from snake bites, actually die from shock not the poison. I mentioned this to the man I was speaking with and he believed this to be true, he said that within the tribe, they learn how to stay calm, under these circumstances.
- They have a medicinal plant for those who have jaundice, which they can heal the person in 3 days with this plant.
- They have the ability to smell if a tiger, or another predatory animal is around.  They were saying that a tiger has a 'chili' spice smell to it, and other animals have other kinds of smells that they can recognize from a distance.
-They worship nature.  The name gorukana- means forest god.  They see themselves as completely entertwined with nature.
- Mosquitoes and leeches are common in the forest, however to these people it doesn't really bother or affect them, they know that these insects come and they go.  When they bite, they bite, and they just let them be until they are finished.
- There are 5 clans (family groups comprised of maybe about 50-100 ppl per group).  Men and women from different clans are allowed to marry.  They only have love marriages.  Once two people fall in love, the tribe sends them off to live alone in the forest for a few weeks to see if they are really compatible. So after a couple of weeks, the couple decides if they would like to get married or if they actually are not so compatible together, either outcome is accepted.
- All tribal's can readily identify each and every plant in their forest, as well as animal- including birds.
-Even the 3 year olds, can readily identify which mushrooms are edible in the forest!   
-They have no caste systems, not even in modern Indian society can they be placed in a caste since their connection to modern India is that old! They do speak a similar enough language to the local language - Kannada, but different enough that it is distinguished. 

I spent 3 days at this eco-resort.  On the second day, the tribals put on a cultural event for us.  They were so happy and proud to just be able to share a little bit of their culture with us.  But actually, I felt like the truly blessed one that they were sharing their beautiful traditions with us.  They began with drumming, and then slowly both the young and the older came dancing out around a bon-fire, wearing white skirts and leaves around their heads.  They performed with such joy, you could just feel that their entire selves were immersed in happiness and vibrancy!

They sung absolutely beautifully!  Then they welcomed all of us who were watching to come dance with them!  Such a beautiful evening to be with all of them!

While we were there we also had the chance to see a few animals, and tiger footprints!  We saw a giant squirrel, bison, an eagle and a lengur.  Our guide was one of the people from the tribe, he has been trained as a naturalist, meaning, he has learned the english names along with scientific names of all of the plants and animals in the forest.  They are so skilled at identifying everything, even the birds, they readily can identify the sounds they hear.  Our guide had extremely sharp vision!  I would only be seeing a dot in the distance and he would happily reply as to which bird it was.  Absolutely incredible!  

The accommodations were surprisingly comfortable, for being so remote, it compared if not surpassed a 5 star hotel.  Also the cooks were amazing!  The food was incredible and they were so accommodating towards our dietary needs.  We asked for no milk, no ghee, no paneer, and little if not no oil.  So suddenly they started preparing so many dishes without oil, not even a question to us as to how they should do it, they happily prepared the food and the food was amazing. 

What else is special about this place is, it happened because of one person.   The founder, Dr. Sudarshan over 30 years ago, made the decision to dedicate his life to a social cause.  When his first interactions with the Soliga tribe began, they were a little wary of him.  But he was patient with them, and was able to help them with a few modern medical needs, which allowed a trust to be built over time.  Today he has set up an NGO which supports their schools and medical facilities. The system has been set up in a way that actually most of the facilities are also operated by the tribal's themselves.  This enables them a necessary bridge to the modern world, which they once used to fear, but now, with more understanding and a relationship to it, they have come to see it with new eyes.  They are very thankful to Dr. Sudarshan's efforts because, as the modern world grows, their home becomes more difficult to live in, so a relationship with the outside world is necessary at this point.  Esp. now that the government has made it illegal to hunt in these forests among other regulations.  So it's a beautiful relationship which has formed.  And we have this amazing opportunity to stay at Gorukana, and to interact with people who live in a way in which the rest of us could learn a lot from.


Pictures to come. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Auroville, Sadhana Forest and Solitude Farm

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Auroville (Tamil Nadu, India)

 My husband, Nithya Shanti along with Nandini and Dr. Nandita Shaw were hosting a retreat, called nourish. It was a beautiful combination of teachings about the wellbeing of the body, mind and heart and how to form the connection between them.

 One of the days we had the opportunity to visit Sadhana forest and Solitude farm. Before I start talking too much about these visits, I just want to give a little insight about Auroville, as it is an intentional international community and I find it a very holistic and alternative kind of place.

        Auroville was founded by the mother who was inspired by Sri Aurobindo. The mother was inspired to create a space for humanity that was open to all nations of the world. Where people could come together in creating a space based on love and compassion, creating a new kind of living, one based on passion and service to others. The town itself was randomly selected on a map of India, and from there the work began. The mother visited the site along with others who were interested in creating this kind of a place. In the beginning the site was absolutely barren. Miles and miles of red desert with no site of life at all, except for some village homes in the distance.
         Since that day, millions of trees have been planted and beautiful buildings have been created. It is now home to some 2,000 people with the capacity to grow to 50,000. There are about 5,000 workers in Auroville and about 1,000 visitors to Auroville on any given day. The roads are clear and clean, pleasant to bicycle or walk on. Enjoyable actually! Some of the roads are a little bumpy but, all the more fun.
        There are many activities in Auroville, some of which caught my eye were: surfing lessons, hula hooping, yoga, healthy cooking, dance therapy, permaculture, natural building etc. It's easy to find organic, vegan and even raw food options many places you go within Auroville. As well as products made with high integrity. The clothes, soaps and other items you can buy are typically hand made, natural ingredients and in some way or another serving a bigger cause, whether it be supporting indigenous creativity and skill sets or using conscious packaging- recycled or compostable material.

    We had lunch at solitude farm one of the days. It was beautiful, and amazing food, fresh from the garden. Krishna, in charge of running the farm, had been deeply inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka. He proudly announced that the rice we were eating was from a no till field! At the end of lunch I asked if I could see his field. He told me that it was the end of the season, so there wasn't much to see, but he would take me there anyway.
    Looking out at the field their were long rows of mounded earth and dried plant material. I could see that that was where the rice had been growing. What they had done, was fold the plants over and had covered them with other dry plant material. He said they would cut green manure plants growing on the side of their field along with collecting leaves from surrounding trees and pile it on the soil. This is a way of conserving moisture and life within the soil. Tilling dries out the soil as well as disrupts vital mycelium growth and other organisms that aerate the soil and bring vital nutrients into it as well. I was very impressed that he was able to a no till system on a large scale. He mentioned that when they plant the rice, they sprinkle it overtop the mounds without disturbing the soil, which is great!
     His other crops were planted in polycultural systems. He would have banana trees along pumpkin patches and beans along with many other varieties of plants! They all looked like very healthy and happy plants. Hopefully I will be able to visit the farm soon again :)

  Sadhana Forest

     We got to Sadhana Forest on a Friday. They give tours, dinner and a movie every friday to any visitor who comes, free of cost! I am amazed that they are able to provide this free. But when I saw the donation box, I did end up emptying out my pockets to contribute to them, because they are doing absolutely amazing work. Jamie, our tourguide (Who has been at living in Sadhana for a number of years) gave us a brief on this beautiful forest we had arrived to. It had started with a small family (a mother, father and a baby) landing on this piece of property (which had also started out as complete desert), and wanting to create something out of it. Wanting to restore it back to its pristine natural self. Within the first week they were there, someone landed up, someone who was willing to dedicate their time to this place. From there, things took off and today they have some 1,000 volunteers coming through annually, helping them restore the forest back to its tropical dry evergreen forest nature. This type of forest is actually on the brink of extinction with some .01% left in the world today.

     All of the buildings made on site are made from natural material, they are very open and spacious allowing much air circulation inside. They use rocket stoves - highly efficient stoves, 70% efficient compared to the average 40% efficiency. They use handpumps in the forest, to remind everyone how precious water is as a resource. So they fill a bucket and carry it to whatever they will need it for on a daily basis! They have solar power onsite, they are able to manage their needs during the day with the panels, and at night they have a batter charged from solar, so the office and other important buildings can be lit after hours. They wash their dishes with ash, water and vinegar.
    The cyclone which hit last year, did effect them. 14 of their buildings came down. However on a better note, because these were built of natural material, they all served as mulch for the soil! Nothing wasted!! They had 2 days without power or water, however the surrounding villages went 2 months without these things! So in all, they did pretty well for themselves. They use compost toilets, so nothing is wasted.
    Today they have planted 25,000 trees. Some locations of Sadhana forest were difficult places to keep the trees alive, and they would have a 40% success rate in the survival of the trees, but today they enjoy a 90% success rate in their tree planting efforts.
    They are also a vegan community. Their main purpose in life is reforestation so they want to make sure all of their actions are congruent. Consumption of meat and animal byproducts contribute more to global warming than any other action humans do on earth! It is the number one reason why are oceans are dying, why the life in our rivers are becoming too polluted for fish and main reason for destruction and deforestation of the amazon and of course other precious forests and natural ecosystems in our world. If you wish to learn more, visit united nations report on consumption of beef, etc. There is a lot to learn from the internet.

   I also wanted to mention that they are very involved with villages nearby as well as children programs. They also have a Sadhana forest Haiti, and are working towards one in Kenya!! To promote long term stays at the forest, they have developed a 3 year certification program in environmental leadership The place seems awesome and someday, I'd love to go back and spend some more time.  More Pictures of Sadhana forest to come!