Satya Dhaam Farm Hostel

Satya Dhaam Farm Enclosure

Growing a Farm Hostel.

Satya Dhaam Farm logo
Satya Dhaam Farm
Well things are moving on apace. My India adventure is changing slightly as Mickey and I have thrown ourselves into getting the Satya Dhaam hostel going, see here. We’ve been out pricing materials and labour with a view to getting the first dormitory inhabitable. Some things are so cheap compared to the EU but other stuff works out at more or less the same price. I’m going to have to readjust a bit.

Now that my daughter has cancelled her India trip I’m not in as much of a rush to get on the road again and to be honest I’d like to do a little work. Most of you that know me know that I’m happiest when I’m doing something constructive. So I figured that a few weeks of work would be just as good as a few weeks on the road again. And besides, this hostel idea really interests me and it will be the way that I get to reside in this country. Which is, after all, what a part of this voyage of discovery is all about. Of course, if I end up with my residency here then there is no rush to see this lovely country, I can do it at a more leisurely pace.

You may remember Mustafa from a previous post? He’s the architectural student from Ahmedabad in Gujarat that got me to hospital in Udaipur when I took a dive down the stairs. Well a female friend of his, also an architectural student, has contacted me with reference to the work we are going to be doing. I think she’s now written her thesis and was asking us if she could come and stay with us with a view to getting some hands-on experience. Mickey and I are in agreement that to have a qualified architect (albeit newly qualified) on the job with us could be a huge advantage, especially as we want to do some actual building work. I’m hoping Swati will have some good ideas, techniques and technical info.

Satya Dhaam energy

Mangaluru in Karnataka
Some time ago I met Madan from Mangaluru (Mangalore) which is in Karnataka in south India. Karnataka is the state up (or north) from Kerala and before you hit Goa. Madan is very electronics savvy and has some big plans, big projects and big ideas on the go. He’s also keen to come up and visit me and Satya Dhaam. He’s offered his knowledge to try and help us with electrical wiring, alternative technologies and computerisation. This excites both Mickey and I as the farm is rural and has connectivity problems both with electrical supply and internet.

Obviously if this rural hostel is to have any degree of success we need electricity that is reliable. Big generators are available but at the cost of a luxury car and are therefore out of the question at the moment. But if Madan can come up with some cost effective solar solution (and there’s no reason why his experience shouldn’t) then we are cruising. Sun we have.

Tesla Powerwall
In India many houses have battery backups and inverters for their electricity because the supply is erratic. You may remember the photo of the electrical wiring in Chandi Chowk in this post? Well this type of cabling is not uncommon. So it is quite normal here to be running on battery power. This is something I understand a little bit because my brother lives off grid in Wales and has been generating his own electricity for years with sun and wind power. An example of this technology can be seen in Tesla’s Powerwall

My experience so far of Indian people is that they are so much more helpful, amenable, sympathetic, friendly and ready to muck in to help their friends than their European counterparts. I think this is because Europeans have to struggle daily for their work, the general cost of living and way of life that a goodly majority have become introspective and (understandably) self-centred to a certain degree. The Indian people on the other hand are used to helping their neighbours on the farm etc. it’s in their mindset. So the giving of time is much more common here and certainly fits much better with my ethos.

So, all in all, it looks like we have a hostel to build with some knowledgable, fun and friendly input. If Swati comes out to stay it will be great. Madan will turn up at some point for sure, probably sooner rather than later, and he knows perfectly well that when he needs graphics for his projects he only has to ask.

This is going to be hard work but fun. If you want to know more why not visit the website or the Facebook page?

Uttar Pradesh farming community

Farming community rice paddy

Morning walk in the Uttar Pradesh farming community

This is the Uttar Pradesh country side, a farming community. The first night we hit the sack at about 21:30 and we woke at 05:30 and it feels good. Bhagat Ji brought the tea, rich with spices and ginger I think, and sweet enough to tempt a bee. The fresh air knocked me out last night.

Green fodder farming community
Green fodder for livestock

wild cannabis in a farming community
wild cannabis growing on roadside verges
My first morning’s walk in this Uttar Pradesh farming community was about 6km down little country roads with its fragrant verges. I still can’t take in the wild cannabis everywhere. So I put a pic on Facebook. We strolled amongst the fields of sugar cane, the green fodder (which Mickey tells me is a barley) that grows to ten feet tall, maize, lentils and pulses and rice. The smell of the growing rice is heavy in the still humid air.

Cutting green fodder by hand
Cutting green fodder by hand
People are in the fields cutting these crops by hand. Families, neighbours working side by side. No big machinery here just honest labour. The transport is buffalo driven carts. In one field is a neighbour of Mickey’s harvesting corn. They stop to talk. Namaste. I’m inspected. And why not? A white man in a sea of happy brown faces. Apparently this corn is someone else’s but this group are harvesting it in exchange for the plant matter that will be used to feed livestock. No tax man here this is a farming community where barter is practiced! We stop and talk to an elderly man having a rest. He too is a neighbour of Mickey’s and this is his abode in the picture. These people have been up for hours working. We’re the lazy ones.

The Jat, Jut or Jaat people of Uttar Pradesh

Mickey had told me that these people are Jats, they originated in Jutland, northern Denmark. It’s hard to imagine these people being of Scandinavian origin but as you’ll see in the linked articles [1] [2] [3] there is some basis for this assertion.

Indian kingfisher
Indian kingfisher
There are kingfishers on the electrical wires, white long-necked birds whose name I’ve yet to find out, peacocks, the national bird, roam wild and they are tricky and cunning. Getting a photo is no easy matter. Neem trees grow all over. The neem is known for it’s benefit to health, so I’m munching the leaves daily. There are mango orchards. (Oh why didn’t I come a month earlier?) This is the land of plenty.

Second walk in the farming community

Our second day’s walk we walk a circle, meeting up with where we were the day before. More neem for breakfast. Passing through the village of Singanapura we hear an English class in the primary school.

I is for ice cream.

I is for India.

Farming community village elders
Singanapura village elders
A young man stops on on his motor bike. His English is good and he’s called Pawan. Pawan has just passed his exams to be a policeman and is waiting his first posting at the end of this month. As in UK (and I guess elsewhere) he will be sent out of his area to serve. We meet his grandfather and a village elder, both in their eighties. I pose for photos with them. Let’s face it, I’m an interest factor. In return the two elders pose for me. Pawan invites us back for tea. We accept the invitation but ask if we might walk a little further first.

farming community village school
Singanapura village school with Mannpreet Singh Khaira
Primary school children
Primary school children
I guess the news has hit the street of this farming community. Pawan has a foreigner coming for tea. Passing the primary school on our return we are greeted by the teacher of I is for ice cream. This is Manpreet Singh Khaira and he comes from Hapur to teach these children. He welcomes us and invites us to see his class. They are youngsters, maybe around 6 to 7 years old (I forgot to ask) some may be younger. I think they are a bit overawed by the white foreigner but they recite their english alphabet well. It is a classroom with no books. This is on purpose. It is also where they get their government lunch. And it’s nearly lunch time. I pop next door to what would be the kindergarten in Europe. The hindi alphabet is on the blackboard. This is where I belong! I pose for photos with some of the children, Manpreet, his principal and a colleagues.

Kindergarten with Hindi alphabet
Kindergarten with Hindi alphabet – were I belong

The school uniforms

Handing out school uniforms in a farming community village school
Handing out school uniforms in a farming community village school
We are just taking our leave to go for tea when we are called back. Would I do them the honour of presenting some of the children with their new uniforms? I promise you the honour was all mine. I was sat at a desk with the new packaged uniforms. The children’s names were read off the labels. Let’s face it, I hadn’t a hope of reading this beautiful script. I’d only stuck my nose into the kindergarten room with the letters on the blackboard. The children accepted the uniforms with the “namaste” greeting, which I returned not knowing if that was correct or not. But no one corrected me and it seemed the right thing. I have to say I found the whole thing quite emotional. These folk are probably the most friendly, open people I have ever met. And I say again, it was an honour and a privilege above my station to have been allowed to not only see but participate in their day.

Now tea.

We walk back to the centre of the village in this farming community, to Pawan’s family house. Cold water is served while the tea is made. It transpires that one of Pawan’s ancestors (probably his great grandfather) was a freedom fighter. Freedom from the British rule. Pawan earned credits in his police entrance application for having an ancestor that was a freedom fighter.

We are accompanied by Manpreet Khaira and a colleague. Little snacks appear and the rich tea is served. Tea here is taken like coffee in Europe, in little cups. We talk about the education of the children and how difficult it is for them to maintain a standard of english in a tiny village where everyone speaks hindi. But english is one of the national languages for which these children will probably never have a use. Manpreet and I exchange emails, facebook, phone numbers etc. and I am told that if there is anything he may do for me or any help he can give that I am not to hesitate in contacting him.

Why isn’t the rest of the world like this? I think we may have a lot to learn from India – AGAIN.

Uttar Pradesh farming communities

Seeing some of these farming community villages, some would be lead to think “poverty”. You would be wrong. These people are educated people with rich lives that Europe has long left behind in it’s obsession with consumer driven capitalism and a “free market economy”. I feel at home here and I’ve only been here a few days. In some sense I am dreading my return to Delhi for the remainder of my dental treatment.

Two days walking in the Ladpur area

Satya Dhaam Farm – Uttar Pradesh

Satya Dhaam Farms

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.

satya dhaam passing traffic
Passing traffic
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 farm rear
Satya Dhaam farm rear
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.

Satya Dhaam sugar cane under teak trees
Satya Dhaam sugar cane under teak trees
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!

Satya Dhaam Farm Photos