Sunday, April 25, 2010

'Farming' in the Himalayan Foothills

It has been a long time since we last posted (besides Andy's today). We just returned to McLeod Ganj after spending nearly 2 1/2 weeks on a farm just down the hill from Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh.

Dev Bala farm was a pleasant enough place. It's a small, three acre farm run by Devinder and his wife, Brijbala. Devinder is about 60 years old, and often told us stories of how Dharamsala used to be ("I remember when McLeod Ganj had only one guesthouse) and how global warming is affecting this part of the world. The farm overlooks a large field of barley at the base of the gorgeous Himalayan mountains. They have mainly mango and lychee orchards and a small plot of barley and wheat below. They also (and this was our favorite part) own two cows which provide the family and their guests with fresh milk to make yogurt and butter (the most delicious yogurt we've had in India!).

Dev Bala farm, however nice, turned out not to be the place that we were looking for. Devinder rarely gave us work to do beyond weeding (the name should be changed to Willing Weeders on Organic Farms) and told us to rest us a lot. This was perfectly fine for the first week, as we were tired and needed a rest after 6 long weeks of traveling. Weeding turned out not to be our most favorite task, and after completing the natural farming workshop in Auroville, we now have our opinions about the necessity of weeding which unfortunately do not coincide with Devinder's. But after the first week, we began to get a little bored, and ansty. Anstyness is perhaps one of the worst feelings to experience because even though we are in a wonderful place, all we can think about is going home. It did not help that we were the only WWOOF guests at the time, so we didn't have anybody else to distract us from our ansty thoughts.

Depsite the antsyness, I was lucky enough to be able to learn a little bit of yoga from Brijbala in the mornings and am now looking forward to continuing that practice when I get home.

While the family is wonderfully kind and hospitable, we started to feel a bit uncomfortable about the money situation. Dev Bala farm asked for a Rs 300/day/person 'donation' (this is a bit steep for WWOOF guests in our experience). Devinder seemed to be a bit uncomfortable asking for this and often said "we are just living simply. We do not have a lot." We felt that this was a bit of bullshit, since Devinder and his family owned a washing machine, a tv (with a satellite dish) and a computer with internet. They live more luxuriously than the majority of Indian families we've seen and even more so than John, the American owner of our first farm. Not only that, but we would participate in things (such as yoga classes) with the assumption that this knowledge and experience would be shared freely only to be asked for money (another 'contribution') afterwards.

In the end, we decided to leave a few days earlier than originally planned. We are to WWOOF (meaning that we work for our accommodation and food) not to spend weeks away at a homestay retreat (however nice it may be) and be badgered for money all the time.

Good news is that Andy and I will be beginning 10-day residential Introduction to Buddhism course in McLeod Ganj on Tuesday. I am really looking forward to learning some new things. More will come on this later.

One more thing....Devinder was telling this story and it was all I had to not crack up laughing at the dinner table...
Devinder's response when I asked him why he doesn't just get a cat to take care of his rat problem:

Well, you see, there was this man, you know, from England or somewhere, yeah? And he had this problem with rats. So he got a trap, that didn't kill them, you see? It just caught them. So, he kept catching all these rats and he put them in the cage. Pretty soon, he caught 1000 rats all in this trap. Then, he stopped feeding them, you see? And pretty soon, the rats, they start to kill and eat each other. And then at the end, there were only two rats left. They all killed each other, you know? So, there are two rats left and one eats the last one (Me: so that's the King Rat?). And he was a big rat you know, (he holds out his hands about 2 feet apart) and so then, this man, he sets that rat free. And then he has no more problem with rats because they are all afraid, you know? (I am now imagining a huge, two foot long rat roaming this English guys house and wondering 'why the hell would he want that around instead of a cat?)

*Pictures of the farm to come later (because it really was a beautiful place)


  1. I want to thank you for the rat ridding advice. I now feel more skilled in rodentia. I think it was kismet in dealing with facing frustrations that led you to yoga and I hope inner peace and tolerance will be among many experiences and strengths you develop from this trip. (can't wait for the photo's)

  2. Nice post. We had a weird time on the farm there ourselves. Sounds like the cosmos were nicer to you about the whole thing, though. You may be interested in our tale...:

    Were you guys the ones who put the tree in and/or built that dirt moat around one?

    -- Devon