TRAVEL FO­CUS HOL­I­DAY WITH A HEART TOP DES­TI­NA­TIONS FOR VOL­UN­TEER TOURISM

As Vol­un­teer Tourism gets pop­u­lar, In­dia’s French town­ship of Auroville pro­vides peace and quiet in ex­change for jobs

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Brunch - Text and images by Divya Rai

I t is 5.50am and my fa­ther and I are on our two wheel­ers, head­ing to­wards the or­ganic farm where we are vol­un­teer­ing in Auroville, the French town­ship in Tamil Nadu.

At 6.10am, the co­or­di­na­tor tells us we need to pick ru­cula from the bed, seg­re­gate the heads af­ter a qual­ity check, and wash, weigh, pack and la­bel it to be dis­patched to the lo­cal pros­per­ity sys­tem. My fa­ther, the co­or­di­na­tor, and I spend an hour hunched over the ru­cula bed. As we work, the co­or­di­na­tor tells us how vol­un­tourism has changed the way peo­ple travel. Many dig­i­tal-no­mads (peo­ple with lo­ca­tion-in­de­pen­dent pro­fes­sions such as writ­ing, cod­ing, edit­ing etc., who prac­tice slow travel) have con­trib­uted to the farm in terms of web­site con­tent and pho­tos for an on­line pres­ence. In ex­change, the farm pro­vides bed and break­fast for four hours of work in the fields.

Vol­un­tourism is a great way to travel, but it also calls for tremen­dous dis­ci­pline. To do phys­i­cally ex­haust­ing work from 6am ev­ery day means late-night so­cial­is­ing goes for a toss. That’s why very few young­sters go for it. It re­quires the sta­bil­ity of a dis­ci­plined life even with­out fixed ge­o­graph­i­cal co­or­di­nates.

Af­ter an hour, my fa­ther and I ready the har­vest for dis­patch. As I wash the leaves tub by tub, my fa­ther com­pares the ‘In­dian kids’ ‘back home’ and the non-Asian youth who are work­ing with us in the farm. The sun blazes down, and the day is get­ting hot­ter. An­other hour-and-a-half, and we have neatly ar­ranged 54 pack­ets of ru­cula in a bas­ket marked ‘dis­patches’. In an­other hour, these pack­ets will be on the re­tail shelf. By now, my fa­ther is bored and fid­gety. A farmer him­self, this is some­thing he has peo­ple to do for him at his farm. At 9am, a bell goes off and ev­ery­one rushes to the tool shed to de­posit the equip­ment. Then we head for break­fast.

As we take our place on a ledge in the foyer, two girls sit op­po­site us. They are en­thused be­cause In­dia seems safer than they’d been told it would be. Though they want to ex­plore more of the coun­try, they only have an Auroville visa, which is dif­fer­ent from an In­dian visa.

Headed back to our guest house, we stop at the fi­nan­cial ser­vice cen­tre to get our Auro-cards topped up. The Auro-card is the only mode of pay­ment for most Auroville bod­ies. The town­ship has had cash­less economy for as long as I have known it.

Vi­brant art in­stal­la­tions (in­set) are a de­light for vol­un­teer­ing vis­i­tors at Auroville

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