Friday, 17 July 2009

My new blog: The Adventures of Superdoc

Hi, I have started this blog in anticipation of my travels to see how I might keep people posted - if they so wish. I must admit, despite the name of my blog, I am not a doctor yet, as I have not yet submitted the final copy of my thesis or attended graduation. I have, however, passed my viva so I hope that soon - sometime probably in January - I shall be worthy of the title Superdoc. 

By January I expect I'll be too far away to attend my graduation. I am not sure exactly where, but my current best plan is to head back to the fascinating land of India. My main goals while I am away are to volunteer and be of some use to someone and to learn more about what fascinating things there are to learn about - other than physics. Some of the things that currently interest me are all aspects of sustainable living that is sensitive to the environment and to animals. Because I don't want to entirely lose all of my analysis skills I am hoping at some point in my travels to help out with the analysis of a conservation project or something. For this purpose, and because I expect I shall be in a few places more than I will be travelling, I'll be bringing a nice wee eee pc with mee running eeebuntu

A good place to start my travels I thought would be Auroville, which is an experimental community of about 2000 people and growing, trying to do just that: live sustainably. There are some aspects of it that sound strange to me as an outsider, but there seems there is so much I can learn. The plan is to volunteer in the mornings planting trees as part of a reforestation project and then explore Auroville and hopefully I'll be able to get involved in some research project there. One of my long running interests are in alternative energy and efficiency, which is probably the sort of area I'll end up looking for a job. Thus I'll be particularly interest in the energy solutions they have and are implementing.

I'll paste more details below of the conservation project, the replanting of Sadhana Forest, in case anyone is interested in joining me. Also, if anyone can recommend any volunteer jobs that are affordable on a shoe string - I would be most grateful.



Sadhana Forest

Our main project is the reforestation of 70 acres of severely eroded land.  We are working to re-create the Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest indigenous to our area.  This forest type is found only in Southern India and Sri Lanka and provides a rare biological richness due to its very high species abundance (over 1000 species of trees, shrubbery, and liana).  The Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest is now close to total extinction as only 0.01% survives. This is a last moment effort to keep this very rich and beautiful Forest on earth.


As part of our reforestation effort we are also working on water conservation and soil management.


Below is a brief overview of our activities since we started Sadhana Forest in December 2003.  This overview covers the almost five years from December 19th 2003 (the day we moved into Sadhana Forest which was then totally barren land) to December 9th 2008:


Indigenous Tree Planting:


We planted more than 20,500 Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest plants of 150 different indigenous species, and are constantly mulching and caring for them. 


Survival rate in average is between 80% - 90%.  Survival rate does not fall below 70% even on the most degraded soil


Water table recharge and conservation:


More than 7 kilometers of trenches have been dug and eight earth dams have been built, altogether storing more than 50,000 cubic meters of rain water. 


As a result of this work underground water level has risen by 6 meters from an average of 26 feet deep during 2003 (before Sadhana Forest was started) to an average of 6 feet during 2007 after four years of intensive water conservation work.


Outreach and Education:


A very warm friendship has developed between us and the villagers around. We work together to regenerate and protect our area. The project is very frequently visited by local people, especially kids. Every visitor is welcome and gets an explanation of the project and its value to the environment.


More than 1,600 volunteers, interns, and students from India and around the world have lived and worked in Sadhana Forest for periods of 2 weeks to 24 months. Accommodation in Sadhana Forest is always free.


Hundreds of children from the surrounding villages and from Auroville have planted TDEF trees. 


Over 50 kids are regularly caring for the trees they planted on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.


Twenty Ecological Living workshops were given as part of the Auroville Winter Integral Studies Program. Totally more than 600 people attended these workshops:


The second Van Utsav (Indian Forest Festival) was hosted in March 2006, with attendance of over 100 people from all over India: During the festival lots of relevant update environmental information and skills were exchanged between the participants.


A group of students from Plymouth State University, New Hampshire stayed in Sadhana Forest with their professor in January 2008 and their experiences are described at:


More than 4 thousand people have visited Sadhana Forest for a few hours and received a basic introduction to our work.


In June 2008, we started the Eco-Film Club. Every Friday we host 20-80 guests for a free environment film screen, tour of the project, and free vegan dinner.



Sustainable Infrastructure:


Sustainable infrastructure was installed that can host local and international volunteers.


All structures are built from local natural materials.  A solar system, dry composting toilets, and a grey water system have been installed. Water infrastructure has been built that enables to water trees on 30% of the land.


Our experience with volunteers has been very positive. Volunteers from all over the world create here a dynamic community atmosphere. Living and sharing in a communal atmosphere brings us in harmony with nature and ourselves. One of our volunteers put it very nicely in her letter to us when she left, "May there be many forests to grow people".


We are happy to welcome volunteers here any time of the year and always have plenty of space for them. We are fully committed to accept everyone that wishes to volunteer here and help recreate the forest. You do not need to let us know the date of your arrival unless you wish to do so. Please simply plan your trip so that you arrive to Sadhana Forest on any day Monday to Friday before noon.


Accommodation for volunteers is in exchange for a 20 hour work week, 4 hours a day, 5 days a week.


Other free facilities for volunteers include a small swimming pool, free 24/7 unlimited access to the internet with your own laptop, a small collection of books, daily yoga class, the use of several bicycles, and a playground for children.


Volunteers mainly plant, mulch and water trees, work in our little vegan-organic vegetable garden, maintain the community area, and spend time with the community kids.


We appreciate creativity and initiative and welcome any ideas you may have to improve our project and our community.


We practice an eco-friendly way of life including veganism, alternative construction, solar energy, biodegradable toiletries, and compost toilets.


Sadhana Forest is a nonprofit ecological project that does not generate any income.  Therefore we unfortunately cannot afford to provide free food for volunteers.  We have communal vegan 100% organic meals. We all equally share the cost of the food ingredients we purchase.  The total cost of food per person (including 3 meals a day) is 150 Indian Rupees per day (about $3 US).  In the future, when we grow our own food, we hope to pay less. Everyone takes turns organizing and cooking the meals and washing the dishes.  Depending on the number of people here at a given time, each meal has one or more cooks, plus help from whomever is around. 


Upon completion of 3 months of volunteering you will not have to contribute any more for your food.


Sadhana Forest is a 100% vegan environment, so we ask volunteers not to bring or eat any non-vegan food in the forest.  A vegan is a person who avoids the use of any animal products for nourishment or for any other purpose.  Vegans do not eat meat, fish, eggs, dairy (milk) products, honey, or any other animal products. Our primary motivation to be vegans is to reduce animal suffering.


We expect volunteers not to use drugs and alcohol during their entire stay at Sadhana Forest, whether inside or outside of Sadhana Forest. 


There is a cigarette smoking corner just outside the forest's main entrance.


Please bring the following with you (for your convenience we are mentioning the local prices of the items in the nearby town of Pondicherry, so you can decide whether to buy them at home or locally):


1. A mosquito net (preferably rectangular shape and not round). Local price in Pondicherry is 150 Rupees (Approx. 3 US Dollars).


2. A torch (flashlight) preferably with rechargeable batteries.  Local price in Pondicherry is 50 Rupees (approx. 1 Dollar) and extra for batteries.


3. Ecological biodegradable toiletries: soap, laundry detergent, toothpaste, and shampoo. Local price in Pondicherry is 120 Rupees (Approx. 3 US Dollar) for a sufficient supply of all toiletries for two weeks. We buy ecological biodegradable toiletries in bulk for 80 Rupees, and you can get them from us at the same price of 80 Rupees (Approx. 2 US Dollars) instead of 120.


The minimum stay is 2 weeks, though many volunteers stay for a few months or more. From January 1st to March 1st the minimum stay will be 4 weeks.


We are also very interested in longer term volunteers/interns staying with us for a period of three months or longer.


We are part of the international community of Auroville, 6 km north of Pondicherry, in Tamil Nadu, South East India.


Auroville offers a wealth of courses, classes, workshops and treatments in many areas of interest, including yoga, meditation, tai-chi, shiatsu, watsu (water shiatsu), free dance and many other kinds of alternative healing therapies.


For more information on Auroville please visit


Our volunteers have found that the most convenient visa arrangement for visiting India is a "Tourist Visa". In the "object/purpose of journey" our volunteers suggested to fill in: "Tourism".


The cheapest and easiest way to reach Sadhana Forest from Pondicherry is to get a bus from Pondicherry to Tindivanam or to Sedarapet, and get off at a village named Morattandi (about 4 km drive from Pondicherry). Please phone us from Morattandi to pick you up. You can also take an autorickshaw from Pondicherry to Morattandi (maximum price 120 Rupees). 


The nearest international airport is Chennai. If this is your first time in India and you are arriving directly from Chennai airport to Sadhana Forest it may be easier for you to take a taxi to Sadhana Forest. Taxi reservations may be made online with Auroville Transport Service at: or with Unity Transport Service by email at uts[et] (cost approx 1500 Rupees), or you could organize it at the airport and the cost will be approx 2000 Rupees. The main disadvantage of finding your own taxi at the airport is that the driver is unlikely to know the way here. In this case phone us on the way and we will direct you here.


Please plan your schedule so that you reach Sadhana Forest any day Monday to Friday before 12 o'clock noon.


Our telephone numbers are 2677682 or 2677683 or 2902655 or 6532461.  If you phone us from anywhere else in India (with the exception of Pondicherry) you need to dial 0413 before the number.


If you have any other questions please feel free to write to us at aviram[et] or phone us at the numbers listed above.


Please circulate this information to anyone else you feel may be interested in interning or volunteering at Sadhana Forest.  It would be especially helpful for us if you would forward this email to any individuals that would be potential long term interns/volunteers.


Sadhana Forest, Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India