Permapai, at the roots of permaculture

 

I arrived in Pai a little city lost in a small valley, but full of tourists! It looks like a touristic resort for Europeans and Americans, walking in mini-shorts in the streets, while Thai people are managing the shops. The city is full of vegetarian or vegan restaurants as well as hippie clothes shops. The atmosphere is very relaxed, but far from the Thai culture. Fortunately, once you are outside the city you can enjoy the beautiful rice fields and buffalos. And when you go further in the mountains, you can enjoy nice trekking and waterfalls.

I am joining David and Lilly, an americano-german couple, who decided to start a food forest 3 years ago. The land was used before only to grow rice with chemical, so it is full of clay. So they have to work a lot and be patient to rebuild a good soil with mulching and composting. There are welcoming volunteers only since a few months. We spend our days planting trees and constructing an “adobe house” (with mud). I am learning many things like planting a fire break, mulching with various materials, and mixing to good material to plaster the “adobe house”.

After spending a whole days the feet and the hands in earth, mud and buffalo poo, it’s a really pleasure to bath in the river, among the fireflies before enjoying a great meal like rice with pumpkin and coconut milk. I also become addicted to sweetened soy milk and logan fruits !

David and Lilly are always ready to share their experience, but also the lessons they learned from their mistakes. The beginnings have been tuff for them, as they were only two people to do everything. They were missing money and labor. They think, if they had to start again, they would pay more attention to:

      Fund raising, easy for a reforestation project

      Creation of a community, where each person has a specific task

      Networking, especially with the village around, to get their support when needed

Before leaving Pai, I bought a new music instrument, called “ukulele” (a small guitar). So now I will be able to animate great nights under the stars (because for « around a fire » it is too hot)…

Pictures:

IMG_7390

Welcome in Thailand

I finally won’t visit Nepal, because it is already raining too much to be able to enjoy trekking there. So we rapidly go back to Kolkata to get a cheap flight for Bangkok. When I arrived there, I have the feeling I am on another planet. The saris have disappeared to give room to ultra-mini shorts and tithed tops. In the subway, on the way to the train station, all the young Thai are glued to their phones, playing games. Far from the Indian animation and disorder, we landed in an aseptisized, climatized city where the anonymous looks don’t even cross anymore…

We only spent a few hours in Bangkok to wait for the train. I have to admit, it is pleasant not to have to squeeze on a crowded banc. Nevertheless the timing is still as bad as in India. We arrived at Pierre’s house in the night, but he welcomed us anyway warmly with bottles of beers and whisky.J

I met Pierre when he was working in Paris. Meanwhile he got married to a Thai women, settled in North East Thailand and opened a small shop along the road. We spent great moment with him, his wife and children, learning the basis of Thai, planting taro, cooking “papaya salad” (very spicy) and having barbecues.

After a week there, I decided to go North, while Fabien preferred to go South. So we split. It is rather difficult to travel with someone after enjoying travelling alone… I only spent one day in Chiang Mai doing some shopping to be prepared to live at Permapai, a starting project with no electricity and current water. I nevertheless took time to visit some nice temples in Chiang Mai…

I spent just one day in Chiang Mai shopping to be prepared to stay at Permapaï, a new project, without electricity or current water. I visit some beautiful Buddhist temples on the way…

Pictures:

IMG_7332

Sikkim, protected mountains

Sikkim is a lost area at the extreme North of India, between Nepal and Bhutan. We needed a special permit to enter it, only allowing a 15 days stay. And then we still needed other permits to visit many parts of Sikkim, making it impossible to travel without an expensive travel agency. As the monsoon season was staring, it was also impossible to camp. So it was not such a good plan for backpackers…

We spent a few days in Gangtok, the capital. We walked around, discovering monasteries and waterfalls, getting lost on the way in small villages. We discovered terraces gardens, with the light green fields of rice ready to be replanted and many small houses surrounded by chicken or buffalos. We saw many men or women carrying heavy stuff on their back like « sherpas » carrying most of the weigh with their front head. I even saw some women carrying their child on their back, like in Africa!

We couldn’t see the snowy Himalayan Mountains because of the fog, and we couldn’t go trekking because of the high cost. So we decided to volunteer for 10 days at “Bamboo Retreat”, a luxury hotel a few kilometers from Gangtok. We had a room and food for free, in exchange of teaching composting and mulching (see “Permaculture” part) to the gardeners. We also listed all the medicinal plants of the garden, discovering all the Ayurveda properties of the Sikkim plants. It was a pleasure to eat a little more European food, even if rice was still the main dish!

When the weather was sunny, we went walking around trying to avoid the numerous leaches. We bath in some waterfall and assisted to a Buddhism ceremony in the Rumtek monastery, animated by enormous gongs.

In the middle of the tea gardens

In a crowded jeep, we are following the famous Darjeling Himalyan Railway around the mountain. We stop about 20 km before Dardjeling, in the middle of the tea gardens, in front of a temple porch (just a porch with a bell). A hundred steps down; we arrive in the small village of Anankong. About four families are living there in 12 houses. We are hosted by Pratik, Sneha and their parents. They are putting a scarf around our neck to welcome us, and then they serve us a tea, with local leaf of course! The mother is working in the tea gardens, and the father is a jeep driver. Pratik and Sneha are still going to school. We spent a week with them and they became like a second family.

 

The house, even small, is always welcoming many people: friends or family from the nearby villages. The atmosphere is very joyful and everybody is very curious to meet us. In the evening, they offer us some local alcohol (made with distilled rice or fermented millet) and they invite us to dance on Indian and European music: we laugh a lot! The next day we go down to the river for a bath and to make our laundry. We see there the tea factory dating from the colonization, but still very present!

 

The village is very nice with all his small colorful houses, decorated with many flower pots. We even saw real “English garden” in the middle of the mountains. Small paths are connecting houses and villages. Animal are rare, I only saw some goats trapped in small bamboo cages. There are some vegetable gardens, but no real fields because most of the land is used by companies to grow tea. Every morning, the mother is leaving the house with a big basket on her back, to harvest the tea leaves, for only 1,5 euro a day !

We spent our time visiting the hills around and going to the market with the family. And I learned how to knit when the weather was too foggy.