Monday 31 August 2015 at 19:44
A Pilgrim's Refuge
by Yeb Saño,
On our journey in India, as part of the Peoples Pilgrimage, we pay homage not only to sacred spaces, or communities affected by climate impacts; we likewise pay tribute to communities that are standing up and showing the way.
Nestled in the bosom of the Sahyadri mountains, just a little over 100 kilometers north of the bustling metropolis that is Mumbai, there lies an amazing refuge that puts the pilgrim in touch with both the sacred and the practical answers to the quagmire of ecological squalor and despoliation happening all around us.
In the face of the far-reaching, pervasive, and complex global ecological crises that we face, perhaps one of the most disabused questions we will hear is:
What concrete things can we do to make a difference?
Many of us grumble and gripe about the endless litany of the social, environmental, economic issues that affect us, and often the solutions that matter elude us.
The Govardhan EcoVillage is an enchanting place, almost mystical and mythical; being the idea of a place of solutions that actually work being largely inconceivable in this day and age where a web of complex environmental problems seem insurmountable.
A brainchild of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), the GEV is over and above all a spiritual sanctuary, whether for the weary pilgrim, novice monk, or the guru. Centered around the homage to Krishna, it features a Vedic Cultural and Educational Center with a temple adorned by intricate stone carvings and a complex of temples and landmarks that are a miniature facsimile of the holy city of Vrindavan.
GEV is also a farm community and a remarkable showcase of the eco-solutions that can lead the world to a more sustainable future.
Espousing the philosophy of ‘simple living and high thinking’, this village run by Hare Krishna monks has become a highly sought-for getaway for the Mumbai urban dwellers and many other visitors. Govardhan EcoVillage is a non-profit endeavour founded by H.H. Radhanath Swami, a teacher of bhakti-yoga and student of His Divine Grace A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder-acharya of the (ISKCON).
Sprawled in 90 acres of lush hills and forest, the community demonstrates the effective combination of traditional wisdom and modern methods that nurture the Earth, and offers the comforts of contemporary living. In fact, this model of living can truly be avant-garde as more and more people around the world embrace ecological lifestyles. Reflecting the Vedic way of life that manifests care for nature rather than abuse and exploitation, the ecovillage presents not just a place of retreat but also an experience of how the world can achieve transcendence of the issues that haunt our societies. In it we can see the integrated transformation that we can pursue.
Powered by solar energy and partially by biogas systems, the village is off-grid and relies on such clean, renewable sources for its electricity.
With a goshala with scores of cows, it is also able to produce cooking gas for its ever-busy kitchen that serves hundreds of resident monks and visiting guests. Food in the farm is produced organically and a blend of modern techniques and ancient farming practices result in reliable, safe, effective, and sustainable agriculture.
Just a little over five years since its establishment, this community has reaped awards for its innovation in agriculture and environmental solutions. 100% of its water use is recycled and the farm likewise features a rainwater-harvesting system and a state-of-the-art yet ancient-technique wastewater treatment system that looks more like a garden than a sewage treatment plant. “This is not a garden. It is a wastewater treatment plant,” muses Nimai Lila Das
, the chief sustainability officer of GEV. Nimai is also one among a hundred young leaders gathered by OurVoices in Rome in June 2015 for the Emerging Leaders Convergence initiative
Clad in the traditional saffron-colored full-on dhoti, the Krishna monk walks with us through the farm, and with his melodic angelic voice, affably tells us the marvelous features of the ecovillage. Nimai’s enthusiasm for the farm is complemented by his childlike excitement with all of the great things they produce, including award-winning farm techniques, and the Ayurvedic stuff they make out of cattle dung and urine.
Yeb Saño (left) and Nimai Lila Das
Perhaps the most rejoiced highlight would be the cottages made of compressed mud, which meant that there was no clay baking involved and zero sand used, and as such very minimal environmental impact. These miracle mud bricks also proved to be elegant as a construction element, needing no plastering, and results in halving the cost of construction compared to conventional materials. In the quieter part of the sprawling complex, I was given the honor of sleeping in a mud hut, which presented a bucolic atmosphere, humble in its elements, yet had the luxurious feel of a well-appointed château.
Believe it or not, mud huts will be the wave of the future and this sustainable way of construction shows us the alternative to resource intensive and extractive means of building. “Eco-friendly does not mean cheap and inconvenient,” Nimai retorts with his usual genial beam. And indeed, I would not trade the experience of staying in the mud huts of Govardhan with a posh five-star affair. By the way, the all-vegetarian food served in the village is superb, and even for that alone this place is ace.Sometimes, pilgrims need rest — and Govardhan is a perfect place to recharge, both physically and spiritually.
But despite its rustic charm, it offers a contemporary clue to what our communities must become to ensure that the world does not spiral beyond a point of no return. After all, we are all pilgrims in this constant journey called life. Is this heaven on earth? It may truly be.
Every village should be an ecovillage. This is not an option. This is perhaps our only chance.Follow Yeb's journey through India for The People's Pilgrimage on Flickr!Photo credits: Nitin Bhardwaj