Juliane diamond: a forest community.


Many, perhaps most, long journeys in India are made via crowded buses, motorbikes, and trains, but after two months of solo backpacking and a night spent sleeping on a bench in the Bangkok airport before flying to Chennai, I sprang for an 800-rupee taxi (about US$20). I spent my first three hours in India asleep in the back of one of the country's 1950s-vintage cabs.


It was February 2008 and I was on my way to Sadhana Forest, an ecovillage in Auroville, India, that is dedicated to the reforestation of the region's endangered tropical dry evergreen forest. The community was founded in 2003 and has been so successful that the directors intend to start a similar project in Morocco. In exchange for accommodation, community members work in the forest, prepare meals, and contribute personal skills and gifts to the village.

The Sadhana opportunity arose in mid-2007, while I was living and working in Korea (a country where I spent most of my time indoors). As much as I enjoyed my time there, I wanted to work with the Earth again and get back to my environmentalist roots. I contacted the directors of Sadhana and applied to work with them, and eight months later I was standing at the village's doorstep.

My first impression was that the cab driver had made a mistake. All that surrounded me were trees, a washed-out bridge, and a homemade fence. But before I had the chance to ask, the cab was already disappearing back down the dirt road, leaving me alone with my pack. Thankfully, before I had time to panic, I was warmly welcomed by a Sadhana Forest greeter (one of several jobs I would soon hold) and was led across the red clay through a maze of thatched-roof huts and water catchment ponds. My arrival felt more like a homecoming.

My previous year of traveling abroad had prepared me for the typical adjustments people make when they come to India, i.e., squat toilets, no toilet paper, unfamiliar bacteria. I felt fully prepared for all that the forest and India could throw at me. I was ready to live outside and feel the energy of working with my hands again.

When I arrived in Sadhana, 75 people were living and working there. It was inspiring to see such a strong coalition of people of all ages and nationalities collaborating to create this fascinating community. We spent each morning planting, cooking, cleaning, and...

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