On Saturday May 16 I boarded a train from Delhi to Dehradun to visit Navdanya Farm and other opportunities for environmental research in the area. My first trick, however, was to get on board: Sharada told me not to offer a porter more than R40, and the only porter who approached me refused anything less than R100 so I had to fend for myself. The trick was in getting through the station: once I found my platform all went well.
I have a bunch of photos from the trip to Dehradun, all sort of a blurry-window sepia. The train track side of all existence is a bit less dressed up, no?
One ubiquitous issue I observed was water quality, affected by a combination of open sewers and solid waste.
Trains are a great way to meet people, including the many children riding with us…
…and this stately retired couple proceeding to a hill station nearby.
Here's Dehradun: not the sprawl of Delhi but the same bustle.
Saturday 16 May was an important day throughout much of India, as the monthlong election ballots were finally counted and results announced. Blocking traffic ahead of us were supporters of the victorious Congress party.
Here's the election outcome: everyone was glued to the TV to watch and comment on the results. Waaay more complicated than in the U.S., as the party count here only begins to suggest.
Dehradun has several opportunities for environmental research, including the Forest Research Institute founded years ago by the British…
…and the Wildlife Institute of India.
Here are a few of their research priorities: our guide was an entomologist specializing in tiger beetle as an indicator species.
Navdanya Farm is located an hour's drive from Dehradun. It was founded by the famous researcher Vandana Shiva as a site to disseminate organic agriculture in India, what Vandana sees as a restoration of tradition and defiance of chemical agriculture in the name of the poor. It has become a popular destination for our students and other outsiders.
Navdanya includes traditional approaches to building and other appropriate technologies, e.g. for rainwater harvesting.
My fellow guests during this stay included two American students completing their overseas stays with a visit to the farm, a South African who has retained close ties with India and is seriously considering farming as a lifestyle, and a Spanish researcher. Several others joined us for midday meal here as well: of course Navdanya serves only organic (and vegetarian) foods.
I took a brief hike outside of Navdanya to a nearby forest. The primary tree species was Sal (Shorea robusta), typically used for livestock fodder (the limbs are cut in winter but regrow) and timber. In SE India it has ritual uses, but not here.
Yep, termite mounds.
Eventually I ran out of trail and returned to Navdanya (thanks to my GPS).
I was guided through Navdanya Farm by Dr. Vidon Bhatt, head researcher for the farm. On Sunday we were joined by two Americans who live in a T.M. ashram in the Himalayan foothills.
Nadanya Farm started about 13 years ago on land previously used for eucalyptus and sugar cane, so a great deal of work was done over the first several years to replenish the soil, and it took awhile for harvests to return. Vidon says that neighbors thought the reason for the eventual boost in harvests was that Navdanhya abandoned organic! But many in this and other areas have converted their farms to organic as a result of Navdanya's outreach.
Navdanya boasts the healthiest cattle I have seen in India.
One sacred room contains their seed repository: a key tenet of the: Navdanya philosophy is biodiversity.
Here Vidon is showing us ther vermiculture beds.
They are proud of the results of research suggesting the superior quality of their soils compared with nearby commercial lands.
My parting time with fellow expatirate pilgrims was spent viewing Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, not an official happening at Navanya but welcome nonetheless. We are after all Westerners, no matter what we have come here to seek.
My train back to Delhi was full of kids, basically making the same fun noise kids make anywhere. Somehow (just barely) I made it from the train station to the plane to Varanasi! But that story awaits another day.