Thinking about volunteering in India!?

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Travelling India and sick of being harassed by tuktuk/auto men, shop keepers always trying to sell you something? Want to get off the beaten track, away from tourism and immerse yourself in REAL culture? Or, like us, have you simply just been travelling/bed hopping for months and want to stay somewhere for a while? Maybe volunteering in India is for you…..

Why volunteer in India?

For me and Agne, it was a complete mix of the above. I guess after anything more than a couple of months travelling around aimlessly you’ll start to miss routine, miss the feeling of being a part of something.

You get to see the real culture of real people.

As stated earlier, once you’ve been on the road a while, you’ll quickly realise that hopping from one tourist destination to another means all you’ll see is what is “manufactured” for tourists.

Yeah, fair enough if you’ve only got 2 weeks holiday then who wants to grafting in someone’s paddy field. Maybe stick to a swanky resort in Goa and relax. After all, you’ve earned it!! 

Now, given 12 months to travel, the plastic tourist places that every country has, soon lose their appeal and there’s no better way to cut through the crap than volunteer in something non-touristy. See how people really live, see how they work and have a go at living in their shoes.

Learn some new skills

For years now, ever since struggling to get my 88 days farm work done in Australia I’ve had a soft spot for agriculture. Agne spent her childhood summers on her grandparents farm helping with the potatoes and animals.

We both have a keen interest in agriculture and working on Eugen’s natural farm was the perfect way to learn some new skills. And that we did….

You get to help someone else.

Maybe, if you look at it one way there is an air of selfishness in this. Helping someone else who could do with a hand is going to give you immense satisfaction.

On the other hand, the host gets help with what they need to get done for a fraction of the cost usually incurred.

volunteering in india

In this case, our host Eugen simply couldn’t get workers to do the work. Even if he paid them twice over the odds. He explained, local people had no interest in working the land and that the local government gave out free rice to people for backhanded votes.

This meant that people he had employed in the past would work two maybe three days a week and then not turn up for the rest because they had free rice and now enough spending money for everything else they needed.

For Eugen, the Workaway scheme was perfect!

Free local guide

As I’ve already said, travelling to any tourist place, there will be someone trying to sell you anything. A lot of the time they aren’t worth bothering with but you don’t live there, you don’t know.

By the time you’ve paid you’re (tourist) money and endured the 2 hour bus ride to this “amazing tourist hotspot”, there’s nothing worse than stepping off the bus and realising you’ve been sold a load of s**t!

For example: The hot springs in Tatopani on the Annapurna circuit.

 On our days off and after work Eugen was all so keen to show us around the local area and all the hidden gems the were well and truly off the tourist trail for free!

It costs you nothing

For many travellers, staying travelling is high op on their priority list. Undoubtedly, a little volunteering here and there can go a long way to helping you achieve this.

The only costs to you are your travel costs to get to the host. To be fair, local buses in India aren’t exactly going to break the bank. A 2 hour bus ride on a local bus will normally set you back less than 100 rupees/$1.

Once you arrive at the host’s address then food and accommodation should be free of charge and some hosts will even let you stay as long as your visa permits.

While volunteering in Thailand, I met a French lady Margo. A few years back Margo had quit her job in France and now lives going from Workaway to Workaway, hopping country every time her visa expires. Not a bad life….

Where and what is this opportunity?

Looking on the Workaway website there are loads (618 to be exact) of hosts all over India offering many different types of opportunities for volunteer experiences.

Where was Eugen’s farm?

After MUCH looking and a lot of deliberation we choose to go to Eugen’s natural farm in a town called Moodabidri situated 34km Northeast of Mangalore in South India.

Moodabidri is famous for its Hunuman temples. More on that further down.

What was it all about?

Eugen’s natural farm is exactly as it sounds. A farm that practices “natural growing techniques”.

What are “natural growing techniques”? Obviously I asked Eugen this. He explained that “it’s like organic but better for you.” According to Eugen even organic farming practices allow the used of certain chemicals in the cultivation of our food.

Natural growing techniques do not allow the use of any chemical that is not natural in nature. Everything is done in natures way.

So, my summary of “natural growing techniques” is, that it is what we all believe organic is but isn’t!!!

How long can you stay for?

Speaking to Eugen,  he was happy to host anyone for a minimum of one week as there is a lot to learn and he wanted people to stick around for long enough to really get a feel of what he was trying to achieve. Understandable really…

Only having a two month visa and India being absolutely humongous we decided to stay for 10 days as it’s all we felt we could.

On the other hand, Eugen would love nothing more than people to stay for, well, years if he had his own way. The longer you can stay the better!!

What was the exchange?

As with all Workaway opportunities there is an exchange. Work for accommodation and food but this varies from host to host. Here’s a little info on the situation at Eugen’s natural farm: 

The accommodation

The accommodation not too bad at all. A nice room with en-suite bathroom. Access to the kitchen at anytime we wanted to use it.

At first we were alone in the room and then when we had to share with a Lithuanian couple that turned up towards the end of our stay. 

Eugen has plans to one day convert one of his out buildings to 3 separate bedrooms, create an outside kitchen on his patio and make a stunning roof terrace on the roof of his house as extra space for workawayer’s.

If you have any skills that might be able to help him achieve this then don’t hesitate to get down there and help him.

The food….

What can I say about the food!? The BEST lentil dal in all of India!!!

In the morning we would be responsible for cooking our own breakfast, using absolutely anything we could find in the kitchen. Usually scrambled eggs on toast with a side of fresh fruit.

For lunch and dinner Eugen cooked with a little help from the workawayers. Eugen’s cooking is fantastic! One thing I learnt, there’s so many different types of garam masala. Something I would use cooking back home in England but I would only have one type. Eugen has at least 6 and they all have their own specific dish. I’m more of a one size fits all kinda guy.

Seen as everyone else was vegetarian, I decided to be a honorary veggie for my time there. A lifetime first for me! Am I a convert? As good as the lentil dal was, not a patch on a bacon butty with plenty of HP sauce. So, no, no I’m not.

One thing is for sure, You’ll not go hungry here!!

Day to day life on the farm.

Now I’ve been through all of the details of volunteering in India, specifically Eugen’s natural farm. Here is a bit about what we actually did over the 10 days me and Agne stayed with Eugen:

Areca nut trees
Areca palms

Harvesting areca nuts: I say harvesting, what I mean is walking between his 1600 trees and collecting them of the ground. The grass was long and the nuts hard to find. Also, Eugen made us wear wellies as the long grass was an ideal habitat for many poisonous snakes.

Why the hell did he tell us that before we started!?

Obviously we tried the areca nuts. In all truth they are crap!! Tasteless and as hard as concrete. This led to my next question. “Eugen why the hell do you grow this crap?” He responds with “good price”. Nuff said!

Young banana tree
Young banana tree

Planting bananas: One of Eugen’s go to grows was bananas. The climate around Moodabidri meant that bananas would grow pretty much year round and take between 8-9 months to produce fruit.

This meant Eugen could plant them at different intervals and have a fairly constant supply of bananas for market. 

Between the rows of bananas we planted young red sandalwood trees. Indigenous to the area but nearly wiped out due to deforestation and monoculture practices. These would be shaded from the strong sunlight by the banana trees for the next few years until they are well established.

planting red sandalwood
planting red sandalwood

Planting bananas is pretty hard work. We had to dig holes about 1ft deep by 2 feet wide. Put the sapling in the middle, add a layer of cow manure 3″ thick, add some rice husks that we collected from a rice mill 3″ thick, add areca nut husks 4″ thick and then recover with soil that was dug out.

The cow manure and rice husks were for fertilisation and the areca nut husks were to keep moisture in. Eugen said that this was to stop the banana plant drying out in the 35C heat as the root system would take some time to get established. Adding the areca nut husks meant that he could water every 5 days instead of 3, saving 1000’s of litres of water.

Setting up irrigation: After planting the bananas the next job was setting up the irrigation to keep the young saplings from drying out.

Setting sprinklers at 7ft centres ensuring every banana tree was within a 7ft radius of at least one sprinkler. Eugen taught us everything from installing the 1.5″ mainline right down to fitting and staking the sprinkler heads.

Such a feeling of achievement when you turn the water on for the first time after you’ve spent a week planting, fertilising and irrigating a substantial patch of bananas.

Collecting and de-husking coconuts. Before travelling to Mexico years ago and seeing a coconut palm I was sure that coconuts grew on the tree as brown hairy, well nuts. No they do not!!

Coconuts are large green pod like things which drop to the ground and then can be picked up and de-husked before they start sprouting roots. For drinking coconuts it is best to climb the trees and cut them down once they reach a certain size.

de-husking coconuts
ripping through coconuts like they’re nothing…

Once we had stomped once again through the viper infested grass and collected them in a pile it was time to de-husk them. This is where the de-husking machine comes in. I say machine, what I really mean is piece of metal with spike and handle on.

To de-husk the coconuts, first you push the coconut onto the spike and then with your foot onto the base of the “machine” to steady it, you then pull the handle to split the husk. Repeat until all the husk is off. Once again hard work.

Once the husk is off you shake the coconut, if you can hear water sloshing around inside then it goes on the sell to market pile. If you can’t then the coconut has probably started producing roots and that coconut went onto the “split for oil” pile.

To make coconut oil you have to crack open the coconuts by holding them in one hand and hitting them with the back of a sickle. The remaining water dribbled out, not so nice when you get a rotten one.

drying coconuts for oil
Drying for oil

Once split, we laid them on the patio to dry in the sun. Covering with a tarp over night to stop the morning due landing on the white flesh turning it black.

Once dry the split coconuts are taken to a mill at the other side of town to be processed for oil.

Days out

As mentioned before, in our time of Eugen was keen to show us around his local area. Happy days!

1000 pillars temple

1000 pillars temple/Saavira Kambada Basadi: The 1000 pillars temple was which took 31 years to complete and was finished in 1430. The whole temple is built from solid granite.

Each and every pillar in the temple tell a story and no two pillars are the same. The Jain temple was a crucial place of rest for the Jain people as they fled from the persecution in the North.

1000 pillars temple

The 1000 pillars temple is truly a staggering sight and pretty untouched by tourism. We really do feel blessed that we got to see it before as with all things nice it’s ravaged by tourism.

Konaje Kallu/Ass’s ears: Another trip out was to Konaje Kallu. Situated at the top of a hill Konaje Kallu is a 30 minute hike from the road and offers nice views of Moodabidri and the surrounding areas.

konaje kallu cave house

Two humongous rocks perched on the top of a hill with cave dwellings built underneath. Eugen explains that people have lived here for over 3000 years. Mainly, many years ago the cave dwellings were used by old people who, to put it bluntly, didn’t have long left.

Seeking solitude this is where they lived out their final days.

It really was something, and again well off the tourist trail.

Lasting impressions of our time there.

We both agree that the 10 days spent at Eugen’s natural farm was hands down the highlight of 2 months travelling through India.

Without a doubt, if we ever make it back to India (we hope we do) then we fully intend to spend more time helping Eugen with his amazing vision.

Eugen is an absolute fountain of knowledge when it comes to growing anything, his passion is truly infectious. Eugen is a man living the dream!!

How can you have this experience?

Easy, sign up to the Workaway website click on Eugen’s page and write him a message, easy as that!! 

If you’re traveling in India and want a break from the same same tourist stuff then why not give volunteering in India a go….

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