In the beginning, I was embarrassed to talk about it. My plan was to spend my vacation in Nepal, tilling the land. It wasn’t that I was shy to do manual labour, but I was shy to say that I was travelling hundreds of miles just to lift up a spade. Didn’t we have farms aplenty in our own country? But going to Chitwan farm in Nepal offered the opportunity to travel too.
I decided to venture there this August after I heard about it from a European friend. Soon I joined a group of volunteers who had converged from all over the world. I was excited to learn some handy tips about farming, explore a new country and also interact with people from across the globe. For generations, the main crop on the farm, which was about the size of a football field, had been paddy, but now Bishnu (the farmer) had started crop rotation with a mix of vegetables and fruits.
Every day there was a new activity on the farm. Even a seemingly simple act like growing pineapples was spread over three days: on the first we loosened the soil, on the second we mixed it with manure and only on the third did we plant the tops. We learnt a lot of tips from Bishnu like how to hold the spade so that it comes crashing down with the most effect and yet doesn’t tire the body and how to loosen the soil and mix the manure thoroughly before planting the pineapple shoots.
We would be all charged after the morning tea to take up whatever activity Bhishnu had planned for us. In our enthusiasm, we ploughed furiously, often completing the task in less than a couple of hours. But he saw to it that there was enough time to laze around in the shade of the trees that surrounded the farm. When the farm was flooded with rainwater from the previous night’s downpour, we ran amok in the slush, nicknaming our game the ‘international mud-running race.’ And when the sacks carrying pineapple corns had been emptied, we had a sack race.
After lunch, we joined the ladies in the house in peeling off corn. One might find it boring work, but sitting with our backs to the walls, chatting about our childhood days spent in our respective countries, was very relaxing. Along with the other volunteers, I stayed in the farmers’ home. I shared my room with a medical student doctor from China. Back home, we have talked about the Chinese as an enemy, but here that thought never crossed my mind.
Also, it was interesting how the Europeans and I longed for different things on the farm. Although the Nepalis have plenty of fresh vegetables in their diet, they don’t eat chapattis. They eat ‘mountain rice’ and we were offered the same. The Americans and Europeans didn’t mind, but I found it difficult and started looking around, hoping that chapattis would magically appear in one of the restaurants in the market close by. After a few enquiries, I found that the tea shop owner had spent enough of his life in India to have chapattis in his diet. A small request and his wife rolled out chapattis for me too!
What the foreigners cribbed about was the ‘bucket bath’ — the humble way of having a bath that is common in India and Nepal. They didn’t complain, but said that they looked forward to having a cosy bed and a nice shower when they left the farm. And that’s what most of us did after leaving; staying in comfortable, reasonably-priced hotels and visiting the temples at Kathmandu and Pokhara. It was a well-earned rest!
Location: Chitwan district of Nepal
Getting around: The more expensive way is to sign up on Workaway’s website and in the volunteering options under Nepal look up ‘Volunteer in an Organic and herbal farm in Nepal’. The registration with Workaway costs around Rs 1500 a night (22 Euros) http://www.workaway.info. The other option is to contact the farm owners Bishnu or his wife Durga at firstname.lastname@example.org
Best time to travel: August-September
Reaching there: Flights and buses connect Delhi to Kathmandu. From there, it’s a seven-hour bus ride to Narayanghaat, a small town, followed by an hour’s journey to Meghauli village, where the farm is located
Amount spent: Rs 10, 000 on air tickets to Kathmandu from New Delhi and back. Rs 5, 000 travelling within Nepal and stay for 10 days, including six days On the farm. (The farm owners ask for USD 5approximately Rs 270 per day as contribution for food.)
Best from: Nepal
You need: 10 days