Where is home? Do you make your home where you find work? Do you create livelihood where you want to build your home? Or do you remain in flux? We decided to experience the flux. The motivation was to find a place, eventually, where we can build that natural building home. But the journey turned out to be more interesting.
When Jeet first left his job to start an adventure tourism community, his idea was to eventually find a place in the Himalayas. When Akanksha left her corporate job for a job with a travel outfit, she just wanted to see if she can last doing what she likes. When we met, it became clear that our priorities and dreams are similar. More than husband and wife, we are partners in crime.
Three months after our wedding, we set out for our first volunteering journey. Broadly, we were looking for ‘home’. But we also wanted to experiment with a nomadic lifestyle and travel slowly. We never even reached the mountains during this stint but were able to explore and experience Kutch, Goa and Kodaikanal in a way that matters to us. With everlasting bonds, Kutch is now our second home.
We also experimented with a lifestyle where needs and perceived needs were distinguished. During all this and another brief stint in Bangalore, we learnt furniture making and art, bread and soap! We even started teaching mosaic art. Luckily, we both eventually got jobs that allowed us (after a considerable pay cut) to work remotely. May be earning a collective Rs 40,000 (approx $600) isn’t lucky for most 30-somethings couple, but we really consider ourselves fortunate.
Eco-friendly Village Living – Tirthan Valley
The journey to the mountains started in 2015. We moved to Tirthan Valley with a car stocked with all we needed. Pots and pans, a cycle, guitar, sleeping bags and tent, clothes and jackets. To top it all, we picked up a little puppy (actually she picked us) off the streets of Mandi, Himachal Pradesh.
Living in small villages of Tirthan put our lives in perspective. We had this idea of creating an eco-village where like-minded people can live together with ethos embedded in ecology, sustainability and community Living. In Tirthan, we realised that almost all villages follow the ethos to a certain extent. Most houses were build with natural materials and were located at an hour’s trek from the road head. The way they led their lives was a lesson in being. The biggest lesson was that we may not need to create a gated, deliberate community; we need to align ourselves to this rural lifestyle and we will have what we want.
Our space orientation changed. While in cities, you are used to witness every inch shaped, here there were expanses of wilderness and to wake up to that was a blessing. To our minds, the life people lived in Tirthan was a life goal. In the first week, it snowed and we learnt the ropes of living in bitter cold without electricity and running water. Wood and river came to our rescue. Tirthan flowed right in our backyard.
People were largely removed from the desire to consume endlessly, unlike their city counterparts. Tirthan gets pretty cold winters and we wondered what people do during those two months. The reply was so simple it baffled us. They do nothing. They knit, cook, eat and stay around fire. They work the rest of 10 months and then take a break. To an urban mind, which is conditioned to “not waste time”, this acceptance of leisure in life was something new. To this date, we try and stop ourselves from planning out every minute of our day. Tirthan made us leave our guilt behind for taking a break mid-afternoon or just sleeping in.
That said, people in mountains work hard. The conditions they live in are inhospitable sometimes, but they make the most of it. We had a chance to interact with a lot of women who worked with the NGO we were volunteering for. These women, apart from managing their homes and farms, were taking training and creating products – handicrafts, food preserves and woolens – for the NGO. They trek for hours to reach the training centre and were actively present for all meetings. If someone really wants to see women power, travel to rural India. A themed cocktail party to discuss women empowerment seems such a sham after this.
We also realized our limitations as city-bred individuals who may not be able to completely adapt to this lifestyle. So we tried to find a balance. We wanted a place with good air and water; a small town where we can have a community-based living. But we also wanted a little more proximity to a rail head because of our travels and to a medical facility because of our family.
I always wondered if people there felt the same. They did. They would like to have better medical facilities and roads but they are still happy with what they have. I envied their contentment. Some of them have left the villages for employment but reasons we mentioned were still not a deal breaker. Months later, I would get my answer in Munsiyari, Uttarakhand. I would be told “Roads take you to big hospitals but is that a way to die? Intubated and miserable? Making your family miserable? Isn’t it better to die in a land slide in mountains? Just go when it’s time. Meanwhile, breathe good air and live an active life.”
The Himalayan Farm Project in Bhimtal
After spending five months in Tirthan Valley, we decided to move to Bhimtal. We started volunteering at The Himalayan Farm Project, a volunteer run place started by a retired brigadier to promote organic farming and natural living. We stayed for three weeks and worked on creating a rocket stove, maintaining farm land, cooked on a wood stove and understood the concept of living with the basics. When Muniya, our dog, got attacked by a leopard, we had to move to a town area. By that time, we had already made up our mind to make Bhimtal our base. At least for a long while.
We got introduced to the destructive nature of Pine needles while attending a demonstration in Tirthan Valley. Pine is invasive and doesn’t let any other species grow. The pine needles are acidic and nothing can grow beneath them, when they fall off in summers. The needles carpet the whole forest and cause water run-off preventing recharge of water table on the mountains. And the needles cause forest fires as they are extremely dry. Anything – a mere friction – can cause it. Fire burns down any other vegetation trying to spear its minority head. Some say that it was the British that started planting the pines which slowly took over the entire ecology. Pine has great industrial relevance in terms of timbre and resin. Some say pine is a native. Either ways, this specie has created a great imbalance.
So after spending a few months in Bhimtal, we contacted Avani, an NGO in Pitthoragarh district of Uttarakhand. It is doing great work in rural livelihood and is probably the only organization working towards generating electricity by pine needle gasification. The pine needles are burned in a controlled environment and the producer gas is used to generate the electricity. The electricity is being sold to the grid. The residue from these plants is used to create charcoal briquettes which serve as a cooking fuel. The locals get a livelihood during the pine needle collection, the region gets more power stability and of course, more biodiversity.
We volunteered with them for a couple of months and Jeet now works full time with them as a consultant. Even though we knew the damage the pine needles cause and the difficulties to run a plant like that in mountains, to actually witness it was an eye-opener. Avani is planning to set up small but many such power plants over the region. There are roadblocks, right from collecting the needles to navigating the bureaucracy. But it is a start of a much needed change.
Living in Avani campus was enriching. The campus had imbibed the ethos of sustainability to the T. There is rain water harvesting, organic farming, natural building and an alternative school. People involved in Avani give you a balanced outlook on the Kumaoni life. They talk about the difficult position of women in the society and about the menace of alcoholism, casteism and superstitions in the region. But they also stand testimony to the change that they want to bring in. Some of the young girls working in the campus have to really fight it out back in their villages. They are breaking shackles of meaningless rules and doing it so silently. We met a 65-year-old lady in Chachret, who led a protest to get a liquor shop shut down in the vicinity. In her words, her teeth are gone, but she can still bite!
Holi in Kumaon
We were lucky to be there during Holi, celebrations for which start right from Shivratri. It is exhausting to be celebrating anything for a month! We heard some peppy Kumaoni Holi songs and danced till everything ached. Our mornings started with the neighbour’s kids singing the folk songs while getting ready for school. It was so refreshing to get a break from the Bollywood numbers that have become synonymous to any celebration.
Holi in Kumaon is a pretty gender segregated affair. While it does give womenfolk a chance to let their hair down, it also means that moving around in the villages during the festivities becomes rather difficult, thanks to the alcohol-induced male euphoria.
We are back in Bhimtal now. We have refurbished the old, rusty and soot ridden outhouse as our workspace. Akanksha has continued her work with the all-women travel company, F5 Escapes. Jeet is with Avani. And both of us are making mosaic art and teaching it in Bangalore and other cities.
Since we intend to be here long term, we want to start a waste management initiative in the town. To see the tourists and locals collectively being apathetic towards the way they throw trash, we are seeking people who will help us do this. For starters, we will just pick up a bag and start collecting the garbage strewn around the lake. We hope that this civic sense will soon develop into a segregation-at-source model and make Bhimtal a model town. It is a beautiful place with a lot of educational institutions and retired military personnel. The Bhimtal lake is the focal point of the town where everyone can meet everyone. But plastic and its burning is plaguing all of the mountain state and we intend to start making a change.
The air and water are cleaner. People know us. And we have some unstructured time every day. It almost feels like home here but who can really say! Sometimes the itch to be a nomad again, resurfaces. Our definition of home has changed since we started this journey. It is where you feel right. And if your needs aren’t bloated by “I gotta have this” symptom, you can find a livelihood wherever you feel right. We believe that even when we hang our boots, we will never stop walking.
ALSO READ: These People Quit Their Cushy Jobs for a Tiger Reserve
The post This Couple Quit City Jobs to Get Back to Nature Living appeared first on Ecophiles.
This post first appeared on Ecophiles | The Travel Webzine Putting Green Choic, please read the originial post: here