Friday, January 30, 2009

Around the camp Vol 3

Since the switch off from the dome, due to lack of earth bag material, I have been putting some work in the garden. Mainly this has involved working with direction from the current garden maestro, Iain who hails originally from Australia but now calls the UK home during the summer and Sadhana forest home during the winter. Comparing the British wreather to Minneapolis, it does not seem too bad, but its not a stretch to say that southern India has better weather during the winter months.
The main garden structure can be seen in the fencing photo at the top. The garden area is laid out with vertical stakes and lined with sticks and twigs on the inside. Once the barrier is complete, earth is placed in the center, which holds the sticks in place and provides the raised bed area for planting.
The thing that keeps all of this working properly, with enough water to provide sustenance for life, are the buntings found all over SF (seen in the second photo). Buntings are made by moving earth and placing it in a manner that keeps water from leaving the land it falls on during a rain storm. Here at Sadhana they were started at the highest point of the property, necessarry to avoid a snowball effect that would destroy lower bundings. The earth piles are combined with trenches and dams to allow the soil to hold more water and slowly distribute it to the plants. Originally when Aviram and Yorit arrived here there was none of this and the water, even during monsoon season, would simply run over the land into the canyon nearby and the ground would be dry quickly, leaving no hope for plant life to grow.
Now, you can see the tomato and garlic bed that I have worked in for the past few days, pulling off side shoots and mulching. they were only planted about one month ago and already there are tiny green tomatoes popping up all over. Its an exciting thing to see hard work come to fruition and be able to taste it too. I can't wait to get home and start potting some vegetables and flowers to grow in the yard this year. Thanks for reading

Buying Scooter Petrol

A few times since I have been in Sadhana I have needed to borrow a motor scooter for traveling. Once to take a bike to the repair shop and once to go to the other side of Auroville to run some errands. Being the kind soul that I am, also due to the first scooter I borrowed running out, I filled them up wih gas as a thank you. Now this might seem easy, as I thought it would be, so no need to ask how right? Well, not exactly. As I could not find a filling station I asked someone how to get scooter petrol to which they replied "red bottle" and pointed down the street. Being confused and not wanting to go too far I walked in the direction indicated and asked again. Getting the same response I looked across the street and saw what you see in the first photo, this is your indication that petrol is available. The establishment could look anything like the second photo, or more likely the front of someone's house, where they will kindly ask you how much you need and procure it for you from a private storage. The containers for 1litre of fuel are ususally aquifina water bottles, while for the 500ml typically soda or scotch/whiskey/bourbon flasks are the norm. Definitely, not what I expected, but the people are friendly and quite able to deal with my bewildered, western lack of understanding with a smile and a wave down the road.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

new water filter!

Here are some shots of the new water filter here at Sadhana Forest. It is called a de-iamized filter (not to be confused with, or perhaps the same thing as de-ionized, I will research and let you know). It involvesw multiple filters including a reverse osmosis filter for the purest water you can get. This is the 3rd one in Aurovillle and they all get alot of use. It is great that Aviram and Yorit, the hosts here at Sadhana are so committed to keeping all of the volunteers and visitore healthy and makeing sure that there is an abundance of clean healthy water.

photos of pondicherry

Jonathan sporting the be a buddah hat, christine in the background and some other sights from Pondicherry.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


This morning it was off into the 40acres of rehabilitating forest for some young tree mulching. It seems strange to mulch in a forest, but the area here was so devistated by logging and the ground dries out so quickly that the trees still need help holding in moisture. We pick up the fallen leaves and dead tree bark to spread on the base of the new ones, a little human help to complete the forest cycle. More photos tonight, tomorrow morning if you are in the states.

Sorry for the delay, some more internet troubles have kept me off your screens, but of course still in your hearts.

These are long overdue photos from the first day at the beach and the dancer performance at the visitors center the first Sunday I was in Auroville.

Took my first trip to Pondicherry on Saturday, it is a city which still bears French colonial influence in street names, construction style and food choices. There are some colonial mansions scattered throughout the city and quite a few bakeries. Most of the street names begin with rue and many of the businesses are French speaking. It was a breif trip for the morning and early afternoon with a few fellow Sadhana Forest volunteers, Jonathan, Christine, Zoe and myself. There was delicious food and (a rare treat as we do not have it in SF) coffee! Shopping for fabric, Christine picked up a dress that she had drawn herself and had a dress shop make for her over the prior week and a good amount of time on the ocean boardwalk. The day was sunny and beautiful, the bus ride down was without major incident except for a few un advisable passes on narrow, busy Indian roads and the flower lined streets were relaxing and different from what I have seen in my limited travels here.

On another note, Jonathan and I took a scooter with some bicycle wheels to the local bike shop/stall. Take a small 2-stroke scooter, add 2 persons, 2 10lb wheels and a rutted out sandy road, get moto!

More photos soon, thanks for reading.

A brief switch for the moment to update on the Earthbag house. We are very nearly finished, only the lack of sandbag material and the necessarry adobe plastering uncompleted. We have gone a bit slower the last few working days in order to allow the layers to set up properly before the next is applied. This is due to the longer drying time required for the additional lime and water that we have placed in the last few earth mixes. Figuring out the proper earth adobe plaster mix for the walls, placing the last few layers and having some local craftsmen make a natural top hat for over the roof is all that is left, anyone looking for a place to stay?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Around the Camp Vol. 2 Sleeping and Cleaning

So in continuation of this series, I present the sleeping and showering arrangements. There are a few Dorm huts scattered all over the main area of the camp. There are a few different types, some are simply individual mosquito nets set up all over the room with space underneath to set up your camp. My space is rooms separated by cloth and set up with two woven cots to a room. My roommate John hails from north of the border in Vancouver BC and spends his summers working on an organic farm and his winters travelling the globe. Tomorrow he heads off to Thailand for a month or so before returning to work in the beginning of march. From the way he talks about Thailand, I can't wait to go there with Laurel and see the sights.

The camp provides a bed mat, blankets and a pillow for those who don't have their own. The nights are still fairly warm, around 60deg F, but in the morning when the dew from the plants thickens the air and covers the ground it is nice to have a sleeping bag. The floors are the ground, although in my case a small area of the floor is taken up by one of the dogs that Sadhana has rescued and taken in.

As for showering , it is easy to conserve water when you have to pump and drag it to the shower yourself :). There is a water pump in the kitchen and some large buckets in the shower area that help to accomplish the task. Each of the two showers has a cup for water application, a shelf for your biodegradeable soap and shampoo along with a mirror (pirate mirror in this photos case). Something about taking a shower outside in the sunshine feels more refreshing, so good.

Thanks for reading

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Around the camp Vol 1

I thought I would show you some different parts of the Sadhana Forest camp. Todays installment is cooking. Since we are off the grid here, cooking of food is best accomplished with our campsite friend, Fire. There are four brick cooking stoves which are shaped to fit pots of various sizes, 2 for the large cooking pots, and 2 that will work for smaller cooking pots, or inthis mornings case, some herbal tea. The Cooking and food prep are all done in the kitchen hut. This hut is stocked with Rice, Dahl, some bread, flour for making Chipatti (Indian Tortillas), Jaggery (think Indian Maple Syrup that starts out as a brick), various herbs from the garden, spices, and fruits which are delivered regularly from an organic farm.

Breakfast standard is fruit salad which is cut under a mosquito net, or in this case a fly net, along with raggie poridge, which is similar to a watery cream of wheat with some orange-cinnamon jaggery on top for sweetness. This morning I was in charge of fire starting and maitenence. A mighty fire we had in three of the ovens, you can see Hela and Britt cooking in the long shot. The whole cooking process takes about 1.5-3 hours depending on the complexity and size of the meal.

Thats it for today, thanks for reading


Sorry about the delay, we have had out or mash your face into the keyboard slow internet, the last few days. So, a quick recap of sorts.
Saturday, my first day in Auroville ended with some nice conversation qmong myself and some new friends that were staying at Sadhana for my first week. They were a group taking a course called Living Roots which is a course on living sustainably done through UMass Amherst. We sat around a table at the Auroville visitors center and while they finished their dinner I had some delightful vegan gingerbread date cake. The evenings entertainment was provided by a Indian dancer in a bright blue sari costume performing with music in a theatrical dance. The performance was done in a small ampitheater behind the visitors center, the restaurant even closed so that employees could watch, different and very thoughtful.

Sunday was a workshop on vegan cooking and how it can improve health. In addition to the talk provided by Doctor Nandita, we were treated to a fill day of absoloutly delicous vegan food. The seminar was heald at Quiet retreat center on the Bay on Bengal where you could hear the ocean waves and lay in a hammock feeling the salt air flow over you. I could see spending a few days there.

The rest of the week has been kind of a blur, Monday was alot of work on the earthbag house as all of the week has been. We are almose finished with it, I will post more photos soon. Tuesday was a treat as the Dalai Lama came to the Tibetan pavilion in Auroville to dedicate the site and give a talk on human relations and responsibility. The talk centered on "being the change that we seek", but in addition the Lama spoke at length about how influenced he was by many south Indian philosophers during his tutelage as a youth. There were about 1500 people gathered to hear him speak, but the highlight for me was the chanting of the 8 monks that were at his side, such low rumbling voices one could scarcely make the tones out as human. I relate them more to a digeriedoo than to human vocal chords.

Today, Thursday, a film crew from France has been interviewing Aviram and taking some footage from around the grounds to make a film for promotion of Sadhana. The hope is that it will be shown in Eco-Film festivals around the world to spread awareness of the project and make fundraising easier for future needs of the forest.

On Sunday I am going to head into Pondicherry with my friends Jonathan and Christine. Christine has the spot for traditional Indian clothes and from what I understand, the town has an interesting french flavor from when the French occupied it. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

first day in Auroville

Took a taxi into Auroville this morning with some other folks from Sadhana forest. stopped at the visitors center for some breakfast and to get a map and some information. Breakfast will make my friends Adam and Samantha jealous as we often dined together at a Minneapolis Indian buffet until we were unable to walk with dignity anymore. Idily (a rice flour type of light bread, fluffy yet dense), and a Dosa (lentil and rice flour crepe) both with Shambar (a lentil soup with carrot, onion and tomato) and coconut sauce, a cup of tea and a coconut cookie for 43Rp, about 1 dollar. So good. While on the food topic, the photo above is the remnants of a Maxi salad I had for lunch with some travelers I met at the Solar Kitchen, think a huge pile of delicous vegetables with tahini and coconut sauces, my mouth is watering again.

The other photo is of the paths which follow by the roads around Auroville, they are a safe haven from passing motorists (who are very respectful anyway) and are lined with beautiful trees, cacti and flowers. A very relaxing town to spend the day in. I also went to the post office a few times, Nomi who is leaving to go to Vietnam tomorrow asked me if I could take some things of hers to the post office to mail them back to the US since when she stopped by there were no boxes available. I stopped by later in the day, but still no boxes, while walking by the center of town I saw one of the postman who stopped me and said there was a box ready and I should meet him back at tohe post office to ship the shoes and books, a friendlier person does not exist elsewhere.

Spent the rest of my time walking the paths and enjoying the beautiful landscape. Tonight I am off to cinema paradiso, in the town hall. There is a french film maker who wishes to meet the volunteers and operators of Sadhana forest for a film she is working on.

One thing have decided to do is take a hike around Arunachala during the full moon. In hindi mythology, Aranachala is the manifestation of Lord Siva and walking around the mountain is supposed to be a path to enlightenment. The area has also recently been reforested within the past 15 years with the help of the permaculture workshop leader John Button. I cant wait to see this mountain in full forested glory and the beautiful temple in Thiruvannamalai.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


couple of photos to whet the appetite. It is about 6:15 here, the sun is just starting to create small bands of light over the tops of the trees surrounding the camp. Birds and insects add to the music eminating from the temple nearby. People in Sadhana are beginning to awaken and start their day. We will be on a different schedule than normal due to the construction of the earth bag dome. More of a typical 9-4 or five instead of two sessions of 2 hours broken up by breakfast and ended with lunch.

Yesterday and today I am taking an Ashtanga yoga class, think of it as doing a whole lot of pushups and abdominal exercises, but in a calm zen like fashion. It has been a great way to begin the morning.

The camp has gotten quite full since I have arrived, between 50-70 people have been visiting and many staying on a daily basis. Tonight or tomorrow will be my first visit into Auroville for supplies and walking around. I hope that all of you are doing well and making the best of what your winter has to offer. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Taking a workshop with John Button today on permaculture. It is a basic overview of how we can work with the environment around us to grow food and live in better harmony with everything. He has a very open opinion and refreshingly a lack of concrete rules, different approaches for different situations with the same final goal in mind. For me the best part is additional questions to research. Photos tonight


Made it down to Auroville from Chennai yesterday by taxi. It was an incredible road, cows, people selling almost anything, women carrying baskets on their heads with no hands and lots of cars, 3-wheel cars, motorcycles, trucks, and honking. Most of the trucks have intricate paintings on them, I will put up a photo as soon as I remember the cable for my camera. The city madness is broken up by beautiful lush green hills and large shimmering lakes on either side of the road, absolutely beautiful. Arrived at Sadhana forest, which is about 10k outside of Auroville and is comprised of a group of well made hut-houses. There is a kitchen, main hut with a small library, dormitory huts and bathing and bathroom areas. Think camping style but with huts to sleep under. There is also a solar array, bicycle powered generator for the monsoon season and of course internet. All in all a wonderful place out in the middle of nowhere. The only thing that would make it better for me is if it were nearer to the ocean. I have not been out to the beach yet, but there are Auroville guest houses out there, I think I may spend some time out there enjoying the rhythmic flow as I fall asleep.

We are building a sandbag shelter right now, which is something that I have been reading about for a while now and am glad to get some hands on experience with. Thats all for now, I will post some photos soon. Thanks for reading and take care.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Round two finds the writer desperately trying to avoid the trappings of Amsterdam, will he ba able to find the will to avoid certain doom and mind numbing chemicals?

This is not too hard when you arrive on a rainy day at 5am, if anyone has suggestions of a quick trip in Amsterdam or a few can't miss spots please email me as I will be back on my return trip at a more reasonable (and light) hour.

Flight #2 down, 2 more to go to Chennai, watched Man On Wire on the plane, go see this now. It is a story about Phellipe Petite, French wire walker, who walked between the towers at Notre Dame Cathedral and between the two World Trade Center buildings, absolute dedication and beautiful to watch.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Giving it a shot

Ah Ha!

So it has begun, better late than never I suppose. I leave for India tomorrow and am both nervous, excited and just a touch overwhelmed. Two moths did not seem as long when I planned out this adventure. Until you have been to a place, there is only so much you can know and be sure of, the gravity of that has me wondering quite a bit about what the next 8 weeks will bring.

So far the trip before the trip has been fantastic. I decided to fly out of Rochester, NY where my parents live when I did not think I would be returning to Minneapolis afterwards, that and it is $400 cheaper. Do you know how many vegan doughnuts I can get for $400? Me neither, but its a lot.

So my girlfriend and Laurel decided to take the pre trip together with stops in Chicago, Niagara Falls and Toronto. The Chicago visit was too short, mainly due to the 10hours it took to get there in the snow, but still got to see my friends Jon and Terri and have breakfast at the Heartland Cafe in Rodgers which is always worth it.

Outside of the Heartland, all the places that Laurel and I ate were marked with peculiar wait staff, not bad, just peculiar. There was the ex-football lineman in michigan who questioned most things that he did, the nice girl in Niagara who was more than a bit overwhelmed, the fellow in Toronto who stood in a corner staring at us (we were the only ones in the restaurant) and would occasionally clear his throat which sounded like a cross between a wood saw and when your hand removed pumpkin seeds and wet pumpkin mass from the shell. I can't forget the waiter in Naigara on the lake who did a little bit of the go white boy dance as he left the table.

Haven't been to Toronto? I suggest that you go as soon as you can, think of it as a city with New York amounts of culture and style, with excellent public transportation, right on a lake, and full of Canadians (read: safer). Just be sure to work on your stiff arm technique as the crowds can get a bit pushy at times and people are so friendly they would prefer to walk into you instead of around. Stop by Niagara falls on the way, avoid the IMAX movie and tourist trappings and head to one of the most beautiful and awe inspiring views in the world. If you are in for a full panoramic view, graba drink at the top of the hilton, the lights are on the falls till 11 or 12 and you have never has a better bar view.

The highlight of the trip was due to a wall painting outside Grossmans Tavern, Laurel and I were enthralled by the blues and jazz legends on the outside and decided to check it out. As the door opened at 4pm on a sunday, you could hear live sounds of New Orleans filling the two room space, an eclectic group of people known as the Happypals were blasting out a variety of jazz tuned in their own new orleans style. The ages of the 7 piece ranged from mid twenties to mid sixties and the solos were frequent and well styled. The band was excellent and the adorable old lady dressed up having a pint and a grilled cheese sandwich was the bow on this gem. A talk with the bartender provided some insight to the unique location, the bar was established in the 1940's and is the second longest running bar in Toronto. Unlike the oldest bar, Grossmans still goes by the same name. Many of the folks painted on the wall, BB King (who I think now might be John Lee Hooker), Ella Fitzgerald, Mingus have played at the bar over the years and Grossmans was one of the first places in Toronto to have things to do on a Sunday. Additionally, the restaurant front from Kung-Fu is across the way and David Carradine would come over for double vodkas and coke to get his zen on before giving a monologue about inner peace and the search for enlightenment. The mural on the outside was painted in the early '90s when the city decided to give arrested graffiti artists jobs for the summer, the city paid half and the businesses provided the remainder. I would like to thank the city to the north of my hometown for having the foresight to see artistic talent in those folks, without their painting we would have never had this experience.

Other things we dug in Toronto include, the bloor theatre, china town, st lawrence market, riding the public transportation, good coffee, fantastic Gothic architecture, outdoor skating rinks, and the lake front view.
Thats it for this one, you made it. Tomorrow it begins again.