Monday, April 24, 2017

Native Place Easter Special

This Easter weekend we had a fun Easter Egg Huntat the Native Place Guesthouse followed by a special ‘East Indian’ Easter lunch. We had invited children from Palegaon ( the nearest village) to take part in the hunt. 

The children arrived at 10.30 and sat shyly in a group. We invited them to join us blowing up balloons. This worked as an icebreaker and soon they were all running around helping with the decorations.

To continue the mood of excitement we played a game - anyone heard of ‘Mamachya patra haravla’ ? It’s the local version of ‘a tisket a tasket’ a kindergarten game I’ve played myself as a child. Such a simple delightful game – one could feel the nostalgia as our garden crew and the paragliding crew spontaneously joined in the fun.

Before we knew it chairs were being called for and musical chairs was next on the plan – have to say it was so much fun that the Nirvana Adventures paragliding students and guests also wanted to play
Next came the Spoon and Lime race – Vinod won hands down – he seemed to have a cheat code of some sort but we never figured it out J .  

 Finally it was time for the Easter egg hunt but i have to say that it did not last too long – the kids were so sharp eyed that within 10 minutes all the goodies were in the bag or should i say basket.

It was a fun morning and everyone had a great time – we are inspired to do it again next year
Mark the dates and see that you show up.  

Astrid Rao

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Native Place Off Site

Last week we had a young energetic group of people from the IT field visit the Native Place guesthouse for a weekend of team adventure, bonding, fun and relaxation. House of Code comprised a 45 strong group.

Zip Line Demo 

All Smiles on the Zip Line 

Low Ropes Course Team Building Activity 

They arrived mid morning to be led through the zip line, valley crossing, and the low ropes course by the Nirvana Adventure Crew. The day flew by with a small break for lunch – Led by the Nirvana Adventure Crew, the participants got into the mood and enjoyed each activity.

By the evening they gathered around the bonfire and entertained themselves with a bunch of fun party games, and BBQ followed with dinner.

Panoramic Views from the hill top 
The next morning there was a trek to the hills above to spend some time in the wilderness and enjoy a panoramic view from above.  They returned lounged around in garden and departed after lunch happy and rejuvenated.

Native Place offers corporate groups a range of  adventure and nature activities to choose from
Click here for more details

Astrid Rao

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Palash Tree Cafe at Native Place is now open

This year our  Palash tree has flowered in January – a curious thing because it usually flowers in March. Another significant thing for us is that it has flowered vigorously – the whole canopy is aflame with its blossoms making a striking picture. Is our late bloomer making up for its tardiness or is this also a result of global warming - one just isn't sure. 
Each day the flowers drop onto the steps that lead to the main door adorning them as though someone has painstakingly strewn flowers to welcome the Native Place  Guesthouse visitors  and Nirvana Paragliding students. . 
I went up to the terrace to get a better view and spotted a number of birds and squirrels attracted by the nectar full flowers. As i sat there i also smelt the Madhu Malati flowers and realized that the fragrance is quite strong in the early mornings.
Pasaba has started to use them in her floral urali decorations 
Coming back to the Palash tree – we are collecting the flowers to make a holi color – again this year. Did you know that the flowers were used to dye monks’ robes?  The flowers can also be  used to make a drink a herbal tea that helps one beat the heat.
For the next few weeks the terrace is going to be my morning go to place .  It is delightful to watch the soft early morning sun’s rays turn the canopy into a fiery orange thereby signalling the birds that the cafe is open. Cause soon after this the birds and squirrels arrive to feast on the sustaining morning beverage (nectar) their antics lead to the dropping of the flowers onto the steps. 
All this while i breathe in the crisp morning air scented by the beautiful flowers of the Madhu Malati vine 
Sheer bliss :) 
Astrid Rao 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Permaculture Patshala comes to Native Place, Kamshet

December 2nd 2016, a varied group of 28 eager participants converged at Native Place for a 3 day Introduction to Permaculture Course. Attracted by the opportunity to learn the basics of growing their own food , mangling soil fertility, setting up regenerative systems,  water harvesting,  biodiversity regeneration etc  and to understand the inter-relationships among all of these.

Under the guidance of Narsanna Koppula, India’s pioneering permaculture practitioner, with his decades of experience in this field, this 3 day course turned out to be a power packed learning experience fulfilling the needs of the various participants - some were working on their land, some had plans to buy land, some were involved in urban terrace farms and some were simply curious.

Narsanna skilfully guided the participants though the fundamentals , the basics of permaculture practices and principles.  Lectures & Interactive discussions, plenty of hands-on practicals, Palikade Farm site visit and tree identification walks.

The Native Place garden, a permaculture project in progress, spread over many levels, packed with bio diverse plantings and an impressive list of native trees - provided the perfect setting. After the initial talk in the yoga room a semi open meeting space at the bottom of the garden, Narsanna led them out into the garden where he preferred the many shady seating areas in the garden  much to the delight of the participants.

Each day the program went on till late in the evening followed by dinner,  a short film on permaculture,   singing and bonding.

They were a lovely bunch of people from Mumbai,  Pune, Nasik, Bangalore, Germany and Canada.  They came together as individual participants but emerged into a cohesive group bound by common interests and the promise of growing sharing and supporting each other in the journey to apply permaculture in their lives. 

Cheers to the Permaculture Patshala and all who energize it

 Astrid Rao & Sneha Shetty 

Narsanna Koppula is a permaculture pioneer in India. Along with his wife Padma Koppula, he founded the organisation AranyaAgricultural Alternatives that works with rural farming communities in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in applications of permaculture and natural resource management. In recent years, through his Permaculture Patshala, Narsanna has also been sharing the wealth of his 30 years of experience with urban folks from across India and the world, who are attempting to return to land and live in harmony with nature. His organisation is also hosting the 13th InternationalPermaculture Convergence in India in November 2017. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Millet and Traditional Cooking Workshop at Native Place with the ' Cooking Pilgrim'

She is  passionate about cooking traditional dishes and using fresh organic produce and this sentiment led Latha Sagi to become the  Cooking Pilgrim, wandering about the country visiting organic farms where she can harvest fresh local seasonal produce  and turn them into into balanced nutritious tasty dishes. She shares her knowledge and her passion with generosity and her ability  to feed and to serve led to her being fondly called 'Latha Devi'.

Monday morning 4 excited women arrived at Native Place for a 3 day cookout only to find that the kitchen had been cleared out.  It was a classic Oops moment but after an initial shock we settled down and began to see the plus points of cooking on hte tandoor terrace ( temporarily set up as kitchen) the place was a mess but the big bonus was it was like cooking in the outdoors,  we had lots of space and great views of the garden. We even had some cheeky bulbuls come by to share a few crumbs.

3 days of  popping grains other than corn ( that was a whole bunch of fun) experimenting with various grains and oilseeds and pulses , making dosas , idlis, khichdi, payasams ladoos,  a variety of chutneys,  cool refreshing  and warm beverages. We made use of  many ingredients from the garden including flowers, , local grains and oilseed – so much to learn so much to taste – it was a sensory feast..

Our 3 day cooking bonanza did not stay just that – we found time to explore the garden, walk in the rain, visit Palikade, admire wild flowers and wade in the monsoon  streams.  An idyllic time it was.
Thank you Sneha for organising it all, thank you Latha Sagi for your generosity and warmth , thank you Tejal for your unflagging  exuberance and thanks Anushree for finally coming by 
Was a great weekend girls, lets do it again soon

To see more pictures check check the Native Place Facebook Album

Astrid Rao

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Mahua Yatra comes to Native Place

A while ago i was talking to my friend Samiksha Agarwal who lives in the buffer zone of the Kanha National Park and she mentioned to me that she had a visitor over who was on a trip around the country visiting places where mahua grew, interacting with the local people sharing recipes on cooking mahua flowers and fruit in an attempt to revive the wild food foraging habits that are fast dwindling.

I was instantly intrigued -  Mahua is one of my favourite trees and although i was aware that alcohol was distilled from the flower  and until not long ago the villagers collected the seeds and expressed oil to use for cooking purposes,   I was not aware of it being used as food in our area.

A series of coincidences led to Aparna visiting us and putting Native Place and Kamshet on the Mahua Yatra Map  - but that’s a long story.

What I’d like to share with you here is that  we discovered that in one village in our area the tradition of  storing the fruit and eating it as a vegetable still persisted albeit by a few.

We had a wonderful two days of sharing recipes – Aparna introduced us to the art of cooking with Mahua and guided by Pasaba we showed her a few wild edible traditions in our area.

A wonderful time it was! The beginning of new food traditions,  a celebration of the forests and the abundance of nature.

The Mahua Yatra travels through 10 states  interacting  with farmers and tribal communities to learn and share and celebrate Mahua (Madhuca longifolia),the tree of life.

For more info on the Mahua tree click here 
For more pictures check out this the Native Place facebook album

Astrid Rao

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Palikade Permaculture Project – Water Harvesting & Soil Conservation (WH & SC)

 The Native Place guesthouse and garden is a labor of love that we have tended to since early 2000.  Today the garden comprises a delightfully diverse group of flora and fauna. a paradise for tree lovers and birders and everyone who loves  nature and gardening. It is exactly what we had envisioned it to be and more but being just an acre and a half in area we soon ran out of place to accommodate the plant palette (our wish list of trees).  Palikade, (an 18-acre plot of land in Thoran Village) that we acquired for this express purpose, is where we intend to manifest this dream. The vision is to develop Palikade as a self-sustaining farm & tropical food forest aimed at facilitating harmony amongst all stakeholders in the habitat (the birds, insects, microorganisms and other animals as well as us humans).

We were aware that it was very important to work on Water Harvesting & Soil Conservation (WH & SC) structures as a priority before planting trees on a large scale. These are also called ‘landforms’.  The land at ‘Palikade’ comprises two fairly flat areas of land divided by a huge gully running in between. The slopes and high rainfall combination in this region meant that significant soil and water was running off the land every monsoon. Also, rain is the only source of water on this land, so, the sooner we undertook the work on landforms, the lesser would be the loss of precious soil and greater the gains of water retention.

The Permaculture Design Course (PDC) that we attended in March 2016 gave us significant confidence with respect to the understanding of WH & SC. We undertook practical work at the PDC, designing and creating WH & SC structures like contour trenches, percolation tank, gully plugs and brushwood. Our two gardeners at Native Place, Anil & Eknath, attended two days of Water Harvesting sessions at the PDC and  thankfully they too learnt the basics and were able to support us in this effort.

Our journey of implementation started with inviting Narsanna to Palikade when he gave us some crucial inputs regarding WH & SC work. Thereafter, we invited Osman Baig, a watershed expert who we met during the PDC, to guide us with the location for different WH & SC structures. Osmanji, came in April for two days and helped us mark the area for a percolation tank, a pond, trenches & bunds and some gully plugs. We asked him plenty of questions so that we understood the logic of all his inputs.

Thereafter, we got down to detailed marking of all the structures on the land. We then did rough measurements around the entire land & drew out the plan and designs on paper. This helped us get greater clarity of the overall picture. The next step was actually making these structures with the help of a JCB and manual labor.

We also figured the details from local sources that annual rainfall in this area was about 2,500mm, number of rainy days was 82 and the highest rainfall in 24 hours was 176 mm. This helped us decide factors like the depth of the trenches to be dug and the distance at which contour trenches needed to be dug.

Some details about the structures are provided along with the individual pictures in this album. Need to specially mention here about the Percolation tank (PT) and pond. Part of this property (about 1 acre) is on the other side of a road, towards the South. It has high slope. At the bottom of this sub-plot, there is the possibility of accumulating water from a catchment of about 7 hectares. Hence a PT was created right there. The water that is likely to accumulate there is being routed to another pond on the farm, through a pipe running across & under the road. 

On his subsequent visit, Osmanji also identified the scope to route more water to the pond by creating a rainwater diversion trench. He also suggested developing a micro-pond in the Western side of the plot – this area was quite rocky and was sloping towards a small gully, which further met the main gully.

By end of May, we had completed all the landforms work. The structures we created have the capacity of holding about 34 lac liters of water at one time.

Capacity - Volume
About 1,200 running metres of deep trenches and bunds
1200 m3
12 lac litres
Percolation tank
350 m3
  3.5 lac litres
1700 m3
17 lac litres
Micro pond
100 m3
  1 lac litres
Staggered trench
14 m3
14,000 litres
Capacity / Volume(approx.)
33.64 lac litres

Simultaneously, in April & May, we were working on designing the plantation on these WH & SC structures, collecting seeds directly from trees & from friends & networks, growing saplings in our own nursery at the Native Place guesthouse & also scouting nurseries for plants that we were not growing ourselves. By second week of June, we were all equipped to start planting - the story of which you may have read in our previous post regarding the plantation J

This has been the first phase of WH & SC and plantation. We intend to take this forward step by step and attempt more intricate permaculture applications. The aim is to conserve & impound rainwater, raise aquifer levels, enhance soil health, create micro climates and an abundant habitat!

We’ve never felt we had completed anything very significant until now. But the amount of inquiries we received from our farmer friends for a detailed account of the work pushed us to do this write up. Feeling humbled & grateful.

In Solidarity,