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Thursday, 1 January 2015

Sadhana Forest - A Volunteer's Paradise

Deep into the forest, hidden from civilization, lush greens and broad leaves crowded my narrow dirt path as I walked.

The path ended, and I stood looking up at a massive triangular roof, made mostly of wood and straw, covering a beautiful open air hut. Inside the hut, I stared in awe at the beautiful interior - the floor was covered with soft woven bamboo, like the ones used for picnics, and comfy cushions lay everywhere, inviting me to sit.
The dormitory where many volunteers sleep
Later on, in that very same hut, I sat in on my first meeting at Sadhana Forest. There were about 70 people crammed in the hut, mostly young and from all over the world. When I announced my name, everyone collectively said back "Andrew, welcome."

Ever watched the movie The Beach, when Leo Dicaprio's character discovers a band of young people living on a secret island tropical paradise just off of Thailand? This is what I felt like upon arriving at Sadhana Forest.

Auroville is a world famous ecovillage that serves as a model for how humanity can live sustainably and in harmony with the ecosystem. It is made up of around 3000 people from around 50 countries around the world, coming together in an intentional community with green technologies and a progressive social structure, the largest of its kind. It even has its own currency. 
The meditation hut, Sadhana Forest
Sadhana Forest was born when Aviram, the founder, leased a small parcel of land from Auroville back in 2003 with a mission to revive an endangered ecosystem - the tropical dry evergeen forest. Thus far it has been successful - the lush forest that I initially walked through, along with the huts that comprise the ecovillage was once a virtual desert, a flat expanse of dirt, just 10 years ago.

Driven by passionate volunteers, Sadhana Forest has combined simple and innovative techniques for rainwater capture with planting trees and other indigenous species to increase vegetation, restore the groundwater and aquifers, and bring life back to the parched land.

The comfy lounge and Wifi area
In the process it has created a hidden paradise of its own, a well balanced and spirited community which attracts mostly young backpackers, foreigners looking for an opportunity to give back to a country which has inspired and enlightened them. However, the community also has a few families with children, including Aviram, and his wife and two daughters.

Sadhana Forest embraces the same passion and noble values it has for tree planting as it does in fostering a sustainable inclusive community. Hut shelters are made primarily out of local and natural materials. Rocket stoves efficiently convert firewood to heat for cooking. Compost toilets convert human waste into fertilizer. A small supply of electricity supplied through solar panels is used sparsely. Natural soap is provided to ensure water runoff from washing activities doesn't pollute the streams. And much, much more... it's the closest thing to living among raw nature that I've experienced.
Compost toilets with poo hole and pee hole to separate the waste
Work is balanced - 16 hours per week of sevas (Sanskrit word meaning "selfless service"), with a variety of tasks to keep work interesting. The community operates on a gift economy. The village also has a small library, mopeds and bicycles available for rent, and a variety of workshops for learning and fun.

Since volunteer efforts are split between planting trees, preparing food and village maintenance, it does not have enough human resources to become self sufficient in food, like many ecovillages. However, the community only prepares and eats vegan food, lightening the burden on the agricultural system weighed down by the high demand for meat.
Workshop on non-violent communication
Sadhana Forest provided the escape to nature I was looking for, a deceleration of pace, and a respite from the harsh realities of backpacking in India, with a backpack getting heavier by the week, no less. It has also provided a wealth of learning that I can carry forward with me.

New Year's Eve was awesome. An Un-talent Show was held with a variety of performances, some quite wacky and interesting. I even performed half a song on harmonica - Neil Young's Heart of Gold. Afterwards we went out to the mud pool for a swim, then hung out by the campfire to count down the end of 2014.
One of the strangest performances at the un-talent show
This morning, everyone shared a moment of silence at the start of breakfast. This happens at every meal. During the moment of silence, I felt happy and thankful to be here. So far, to me, this is the most unique community on Earth with some of the most amazing people I've ever met.

I'm looking forward to one month of relaxing in balmy weather, surrounded by blissful nature, getting my hands dirty, and bonding with other inspiring international travelers. Come join me!

Flickr photos


  1. Looks like a great place for meditation.

  2. Sadhana indeed is a magical place. You are far from everything artificial yet close to people and nature