Nov 19, 2019

Farm visit at Gumalapura - my experience

Many years back, my husband K and I attended a 4-day "Art of Living" course. One of the phrases that the instructor mentioned is clearly etched in my memory - "Expectations reduce joy, Surprises increase joy". When I enrolled for the 2-day weekend farm visit organized by Bhoomi College in their Gumalapura organic farm, I absolutely had no expectations. All I wanted was a break from the usual weekend routine.

It was such a memorable experience for our whole family. If you love nature, farms, fresh air and interaction with good set of people, I'd highly recommend you enroll for this weekend programme. Yes, get surprised like us. It will be a unique experience for the kids as well as city-bred adults.

Don't read the finer details mentioned below. I'm jotting down here, so I can revisit the experience through my own words years later. Even if I go there again, I may or may not feel the same joy I felt while returning home on Sunday evening.

****Spoiler Alert******

We packed our bags on Friday night, started early on Saturday morning and reached Gumalapura around 9:30AM. The winding roads of the countryside, green fields and eucalyptus trees on either side were such a treat to the eyes. The rest of the group who had enrolled for the programme had already arrived. After a quick round of introductions, we headed for breakfast - fresh and piping hot pongal and coconut chutney. 

We then started for a walk around the farm. The farmer Mr.Ashok showed us fields of paddy, horsegram, ragi, groundnut etc. He also took us to a couple of caves that were around 500-600 years old. After walking around, we were served fresh lemon juice sweetened with jaggery. Felt so refreshing, sipping the drink standing near the fields. The weather was perfect that morning. 

The next activity was to make panchagavya as a team. The organizing team brought all the required ingredients - cow urine, cow poop, ghee, milk and curd (5 things from the cows). They also add bananas, honey, coconut water and jaggery. We had to mix all these 9 ingredients together. Though I was hesitant to touch the first two ingredients, there was an enthusiastic 10-year old girl who mixed the poop with ghee without a hint of disgust. Hats off to her. Mr.Ashok explained the proportions, how to dilute it and at what stage panchagavya needs to be sprayed on plants.

It was time for a homely vegetarian lunch - rice, veggie-loaded sambhar, beans palya and radish salad. The salad, in particular, was so tasty without the pungent flavor of radish. After lunch, we played a fun team activity of rolling a marble using broken pipes. Though it seemed like an easy activity, it required tremendous coordination as a team. 

We then headed again to the farm for a novel experience of riding a tractor. We all plowed a small plot of land and also got to drive a tractor, which was such a fun experience. We then manually tilled another small plot of land and planted dill and coriander seeds. We also got to understand how sprinklers need to be setup.

We were then taken to a beautiful spot, near a lake and a spectacular view of the valley. Mr.Ashok explained the history of Gumalapura village and the annual temple festival celebrated in praise of Goddess, sitting in front of a spooky cave whose length is around 11 kms and ends in another temple. Sitting on the rocks, inhaling plenty of fresh air, watching a brilliant view of the sunset and the vast expanse of the valley and hills, eating bhelpuri and sipping tea - such a magical evening it was!

We returned to our rooms, freshened up a bit, played badminton and football until it became dark. A bonfire was set up and we all sat around it, listening to music, admiring the remarkable night sky with plenty of stars - a rare sight for city dwellers like us. Dinner was again a fresh, homely meal - chapatis, bhindi sabzi, veg palya and curd rice. 

After dinner, we went to the terrace, lied down on the floor, watching the night sky and just staying quiet without talking. When we asked D what was your most memorable experience during the trip, she pointed to this very moment.

After a long day, we went back to our allotted rooms and slept. Being a new place, D couldn't sleep well and woke up multiple times as she is not used to the sounds of the night insects.

The next day, we woke up early and after a quick cup of tea, we headed for a trek into the forests. Climbing up the small hill in the tiny pathway and walking into the morning fog, we noticed a spot of fresh elephant poop. The guides who accompanied us asked us to wait as they went ahead to check for any wild elephants in the vicinity. After they came back and gave a go-ahead, we continued the trek and came to a nice spot with a magnificent view of the mountains. As we sat down at this peaceful place, we kept hearing loud music emanating from somewhere. The guide told us that such loud music is played in a resort near a place named Muthayalmaduvu. Loud music at 8AM on a Sunday morning. Imagine the noise on a Saturday night and how it would affect the animals in that area. 

Pathetic humans we are! Why spoil the peace and serenity of the jungle? 

Anyway, we all sat quietly and ate some oranges and groundnut chikkis. Some of us meditated for a little bit. As we were heading back, the guides spotted a herd of wild elephants in the distance. We were all thrilled to see them and how they walked together as a group. D was so happy to see the baby elephant. 

It was quite a trek, exploring the vast expanse of the jungle and we were told that the distance we would have covered would be around 3.5 kms. My first thought was "That's it? We walked so much and sweated quite a bit".

After a quick shower, we had a yum breakfast of Poha and chutney, followed by jaggery tea. The cooks here in this farm have some sort of magic in their hands - even the simplest of foods taste so good.

Next was farm work and we planted butter fruit saplings. This visit opened my eyes to the sheer amount of physical effort that is being invested by a farmer. I'm not exaggerating when I say that my respect for food, farmers and nature has increased multi-fold after this trip.

We were free for the rest of the morning. Had tea and bananas, casually chatting with other group members while children were busy learning to make fish and crab using coconut leaves from the cook anna, also got a feel of the kitchen as we all helped a bit in chopping up veggies. Sunday lunch was totally sumptuous - Karnataka style veg pulao, cucumber raitha, mixed veg salad, potato palya and the yummax millet payasam, which we all took 2-3 servings.

A couple of the group members asked me to talk to the kids about packaged foods. So we all sat down and had an impromptu discussion on ingredients of packaged foods. I felt so happy that D also pitched in and shared her thoughts about sugar and sodium in junk foods.

The kids were then given an activity to draw their farm on a chart paper. The 2 day exposure has given them enough sparks to think about what their farm would look like.

After a final wrap-up on how we felt about the whole experience, we had our last cup of tea along with some pakodas. We bought some fresh organic palak and amaranth greens. We also got home a couple of tomato saplings. It was time to bid goodbye and carry home a load of memorable experiences.

The organizers were brilliant. They had planned and orchestrated the whole event beautifully. We also got a chance to meet many like-minded people and have interesting conversations. 

Yes, I came home with such a happy, grateful smile. One of the best trips we have ever done with D.

And the best part was that I didn't feel the urge to check my phone in these 2 days. K took a few photos on his phone but we didn't click as many pics as we would have normally taken. 

What I learned about myself - Put me amidst a farm, fresh air, open spaces and a group of like-minded people, my energy levels are totally different.

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