Backpackers have their own way of doing things. Perhaps that is why when I called up Anita Nautiyal ma’am on the evening of 3rd March 2018 to tell her that I wanted to volunteer at AVGG and would be there next day, she instantly believed me. And perhaps because she did, I presented myself at Bhouniyada village, the headquarters of Ananda Vatika Green Gurukulam (AVGG) late in the evening the next day, startling some nightjars and wild pigs along the way.
I met Kashish B, who I initially thought was a local, seeing her friendly banter with the housemates. I later came to know she was indeed a volunteer (quite embarrassingly asking for her in front of her).
The home of AVGG reminded me of my grandparents’ home. It was a majestic mud house with a front lawn looking into the wild and had enough room for people, birds and butterflies alike. My day would start by standing near the edge of the lawn, hands resting on the boundary wall, identifying the different birds chirping at each other. I could easily see sparrows, bulbuls, parrots, thrushes and even treepies. There was however one tiny fellow in white and yellow whom I was never able to identify. Later in the day, I would go wandering off in one of the many trails and would not come back until Anita ma’am called me. Sometimes Anita ma’am, Kashish and I together took off to explore nearby villages and Anita ma’am would often pause to point us an unusual flower or show us a useful tree or tell us a story from her past.
Some days I would help Anita ma’am in her farm that she’s trying to create as a model using permaculture techniques. The bliss of your feet touching the soft wet mud and your hand working away to make a perfect bed cannot be described. Farming is not an occupation, it is a life skill.
Other days I would simply laze around in the sun watching the eldest lady of the house singing to the youngest lady of the house (a year old) while massaging her back with oodles of oil. It was a pleasant sight even for the observer.
While the AVGG home and farming are enough lifetime experiences a traveler can ask for, the Gurukulam and the children add to a unique dimension. What I love about AVGG is its unconventional setup. Volunteers are not simply expected to teach school subjects, instead we have the freedom to teach whatever we are confident of. If you are a writer, you can teach English, if you are a filmmaker, you can teach drama, an artist can teach drawing and so on. This is the true and raw sense of holistic learning which even international schools are trying to impart (with tons of money in exchange of course). Anita ma’am told me that the attitude of the children had changed over the past year. Many travelers from across the world have visited AVGG and it is only natural to note that when kids interact with diverse people, their thought is expanded. Isn’t that also why we travel? – To expand our minds and live many lives. The children of AVGG make you feel special, waiting enthusiastically for your class every day and are sport to any challenge you throw at them.
Once the class is over, Vande Mataram is sung sweetly by Anita ma’am and the children repeat after her diligently. Their voices fade into the mountains lined with trees with the setting sun in the background. Later that night, it would be best sleep you’ve slept.
Bottom line, volunteering at AVGG has been an experience to remember. I wish more and more travelers to come up to the mountains and rejuvenate themselves.
Thanks to Purvi Kamaliya's blog efforts through which I stumbled upon AVGG.