Leaving for Satya Dhaam Farm
Leaving Delhi for Satya Dhaam Farm was like music to me. Even the incessant honking of horns sounded, melodious? No it didn’t, I’m lying. If there is one thing that I could say against India it would be that they don’t let up with the horn. Sometimes it seems that it has to be sounded to break the silence because I can see no logical reason for it. There may be someone 50m ahead and in no way impeding or needing warning of the on coming vehicle, but BEEP BEEP.
Virender collected me from the hotel at about 11:30 and we set off to the east in search of Mickey and the Satya Dhaam Farms. Our journey would take us through Ghaziabad which is in Uttar Pradesh, the next state to the east, and Hapur in search of Simbhaoli and the sugar mill. Leaving Delhi was a relief and horror. The roads were congested, smelly with diesel and petrol fumes, chaotic and above all, NOISY. It took some time to exit the Delhi conurbation only to reach Ghaziabad, which is a huge manufacturing area as noisy and developed as Delhi. The road, the equivalent of a motorway in Europe, is lined in places with stalls selling food, crash helmets, drinks. There are people repairing tyres, people just stopped on the hard shoulder for a rest or relieving themselves. Things you wouldn’t see in Europe or that would be plain illegal. The cars, trucks, tuk-tuks and bikes knit themselves in and out of each other, and as mentioned before, the lane markings are more of an indication than instruction. Women ride pillion on bikes side saddle! Three up on that Honda. Crash helmets – only if you feel like it. They are a legal requirement but what the hell?
The further behind we left Delhi the quieter the road became. We witnessed one scooter accident where the driver and woman pillion seemed to have hit the central tree and bush covered reservation. Cars were stopped on the road side with the outside of the two lanes filled with helpers and onlookers. Pandemonium! I hope they were alright.
We reached the outskirts of Hapur and stopped. Monkeys strolled up and down under the shade of the trees. There seemed to be a bypass. Consulting google we determined that going round would be easier than getting held up in another city. By now the roads were quite empty and the air fresh. The humidity is high, high, high. Sweat rolls of with the exercise of breathing. BEEP BEEP. Sheer exuberance at being on an empty road, or maybe it’s for the bike 300 yards ahead?
Eventually we arrive at Simbhaoli, a town alongside the NH9 road. Off to the left the smokestacks and buildings of the sugar mill could be seen. Mickey will be somewhere here in the chaos waiting. We spot a road to the left in front of the sugar mill gates and there is Mickey’s car. He greets me like a long lost brother with a big hug. I feel easy in his embrace. He offers a ride in air conditioned comfort but I’ll stay with Virender until we get to the farm.
Mickey leads, we follow. First through a market in full swing and on possibly one of the worst roads I have ever been on. But the road gets better as we exit the town. It is a narrow road, a country road as you’d find anywhere. The only difference is that some of the traffic are buffalo drawn carts. Yes, buffalo. These animals are kept for labour and milk. Some of the carts are drawn by cows or bullocks too. BEEP BEEP. Motor bikes with multiple crash helmetless people roar up and down. I can smell what seems to be marijuana. Suddenly I realise that the road verges are covered with wild hemp! Covered as an English or Irish roadside would be with nettles. It’s everywhere. Mostly male plants but with the odd female running to seed. The smell alone is intoxicating. Eventually, some 8kms later we reach Satya Dhaam Farm.
Satya Dhaam is a walled enclosure with yellow gates (soon to be navy blue according to vastu shastra, the “feng shui” of the Indian tradition). The front courtyard has litchis, mud apples (sapodillas or chickoos, which I’ve never tried) and jackfruit. Unfortunately the season has just ended 🙁 No mangos either. We’re into the (boring) apple season.
Mickey shows me round and introduces me to his farm manager Bhagat Ji, a man of my age with silver hair and a smile. Bhagat Ji has a little english and was a plumber but swapped it for a life on Satya Dhaam Farm with Mickey following the loss of his wife and his children’s adulthood. He cooks, cleans maintains the water pump and electricity (which is erratic, to say the least). He deals with the sale of the sugar cane and produce. Mickey has known him since he was a child. Bhagat Ji was a friend of his father’s.
The farm is 6 acres (or nearly 2.5 hectares) and predominantly sugar cane, which gets sold to the Shimbaoli mill. Part of the land is given over to green fodder for livestock at the moment. The sugar cane is shaded by teak trees which represent Mickey’s pension. When the sugar cane is cut the land will be put over to nitrogen-giving peas and some vegetables for consumption here on the farm. All the food I have eaten so far, aside from the tomatoes, is grown here without the help of BigAgriculture. This is a land where you throw a seed at the ground and it grows. It is green and fertile. The water is from the Ganges. I have been warned to only drink bottled water but there isn’t any near by so it’s fresh, fast running well oxygenated water from the Holy River – and it’s lovely. And no I haven’t been hit with any stomach disorder – yet!