After Varanasi we wanted to go rural. We headed west to Rajasthan, home to some of India’s biggest farms and the Thar desert.
As members of WWOOF India we had received a list of organic farms across the country looking for volunteers to work in exchange for food, shelter and to experience life on an organic, working farm.
The farm is spread out over around 10 acres and encompasses clusters of houses and communities. The owner and true “bossman” is Binod Saharia. Larger than life, fluent in English and a hint of misplaced charm to accompany his slight arrogance, Binod is the overseer and investment capital.
He greets us with a hospitable handshake. Schmoozing two Canadian suppliers, he insists we go on a camel ride tour of the area. An opportunity for us to familiarise ourselves, or a chance for him to parade his western friends in front of the locals? Perhaps a bit of both.
The land is lush green and yellow. The air is warm but still fresh and birdsong resonates around us as we rattle side to side on the splintered wagon. This is the first place we’ve been which reminds us remotely of home.
Over the next few weeks we would get to know the hierarchy here. Buphinda the farm manager, Suresh the cook, Ratan, Deepak and many others who live and work the land under the watchful eye of Binod.
Our hope was to feel like part of the community and learn.
Our accommodation is basic. Five mud hut shacks attached to a bathroom and a disused kitchen make up the volunteers quarters. After a day or two it became comfortable.
We are not the only volunteers. A young french pair stopping off en route to a Goan trance festival (Adrienne and Sam) and Yorkshire born Berliner and fashion designer Grace become our partners in crime. Thick as thieves.
The routine was simple:
Wake up 8’clock for breakfast at 9. All meals are prepared for us by the comical and culinary Suresh. Simple, vegetarian, local.
9:30ish – Work begins. We spend mornings in the fields picking amlas (Indian gooseberries) that had been missed during the harvest. “Not for me” spat Hannah, looking to the floor at the remanence of a semi-chewed amla. Incredibly sour when raw the amlas are either dried and crushed into powder or made into chewy sweets and sold as an Ayurvedic medicine.
1:00pm – Lunch. Usually a vegetable curry, dhal and chapattis or rice.
2:00 – 3:30 Back in the amla fields or helping out the other workers with a variety of tasks, from gathering leaves for cow feed to counting out rose bushes.
8pm – Dinner. Again prepared by Suresh and then the evening was ours to while away by the fire, sharing stories and the occasional bottle of Old Monk rum.
We settled in. Me and Hannah averaged around 50kg of amlas a day. Accompanied by our Spotify playlists and the playful farm puppy (La-Lee). It was fun.
The misty dew enveloped the farm every morning. A breeze kicking. By midday the sun rose high and the sky opened. We sweated in the heat and cooled ourselves with cigarettes and chai once the work was done.
On day one Hannah asked about teaching dance classes to the local children. Binod loved the idea and spread word that there would be a daily session at 5pm.
This quickly became our highlight. Hannah organised routines and myself and the other WWOOFer’s moonlighted as her assistants.
The group was about 10 strong. Aged between 2-13. Village kids most of whom had been at school during weekdays or working around the farm. Bare, weathered feet. Agile limbs with balance that put me to shame. They beamed as Hannah taught.
We stretched, played games and moved as Little Dragon and Bonobo belted from Binods’s blue tooth speaker.
Our class favourite, Pinky smiled from ear to ear each time Hannah pointed to her, displaying a gap once occupied by her front baby teeth. She was always first to arrive and last to leave.
By the end of each class I looked like I’d done 12 rounds with a tiger. Dishevelled and depleted. The kids laughed mockingly as they jumped to their next activity fresh as lotus buds.
By our 10th and final day we felt a strong bond. We knew all their names as they did ours, and they sat with us after class popping peas from pods and laughing at our travel photos as the sun disappeared.
This was what we were hoping for. Something you can’t find on Trip Advisor or in Lonely Planet.
A real connection.