Last week, my family and I had the opportunity to visit the Govardhan Ecovillage located in a small hamlet called Galtare that is located on the Manor-Wada highway in Maharashtra. It us about 2.5 hours to traverse the distance of 106 kms from South Mumbai early in the morning.
As we entered through the gates of the ecovillage, the sense of spiritual vibrations was palpable. We were greeted by the polite staff at the reception, who then guided us towards a battery run golf-cart that would take us to the ‘Satsang Bhavan’, where our day-tour was scheduled to start. You have options for a day-trip that starts from 9 am in the morning till 6.30 pm in the evening or you could even stay overnight or a few days at the 94 well-appointed rooms. Since we had time only till the afternoon, I want to share our experience till then.
The Govardhan Ecovillage is spread over 85 acres and is the brainchild of Swami Radhanath Swami of ISKCON, who wanted to fulfil the dream of his guru His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupäda. ISKCON or The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, popularly known as the Hare Krishna movement, belongs to the Gaudiya-Vaishnava sampradāya, a monotheistic tradition within the Vedic or Hindu culture.
The tour started with a vegetarian breakfast of dosa, sevai, sambar and chutney and fruits. And then we assembled in the Satsang Bhavan where we got an introduction of the campus and the philosophy of the Ecovillage. What had intrigued me most to come here was to observe the sustainable practice that Govardhan Ecovillage had adopted. According to Radhanath Swamiji, modern farming and dairy methods have had a detrimental effect on the eco-system. Agriculture systems today are hugely dependent on oil and chemical fertilizers. Though it has increased yield in the initial years, they have stripped the fertility of soil and also leaving it toxic. Genetically modified crops bring their own set of ethical and health issues. Hence, at ISKCON eco-villages, rural communities have been formed to promote sustainability by highlighting spiritual ecology- based on respect for all living beings.
Our guide – a devotee from Ayodhya, who is a volunteer at the Govardhan Ecovillage tells us that ‘Simple living and high thinking’, is the underlying philosophy. We started our walking tour and were taken to the Goshala first. As we looked around, we could see the beautiful Sahayadri ranges all around us. Just the air that we breathed seemed so clean after having come from Mumbai. Nearly 105 Gir cows, which are indigenous and are housed along with calves. Each cow is given a name and is fed a diet of fodder grass and oil cakes. There is ample space for free movement and they are also taken for grazing. The cow-dung is used along with other organic waste to produce a slurry that produces biogas through anaerobic digestion.
And that is where the next stop was. Next to the biogas plant is the composting shed that has all the vegetable and organic waste from the kitchen that is converted into organic manure through methods of vermi-composting. A shining example of sustainable waste management.
Vegetables are grown using organic farming methods and you see smiling villagers from neighbouring villages come in and attend to the gardens and cultivation areas. 1,100 families from 50 villages have been taught organic farming, which has increased their annual income. Landless families have been rehabilitated too. A mid-day meal scheme benefits several schools in the area. The ecovillage also conducts seminars and workshops on organic farming.
We come across a man-made lake that has been created rain-water harvesting. These provide water and also serve as recharge units. The integrated water conservation scheme also makes sure that waste-water is thoroughly treated and used for landscaping. The combined grey and black water from GEV cottages are collected and transported via underground sewage network to a central collection point. A primary treatment involves the physical separation through an equalization tank, perforated screen and gravity settling tank. The secondary treatment is combination of physio-chemical and biological processes where waste water is processed in an ecosystem consisting of soil, bacterial culture and geo-phagus earthworm, mineral additives and select plants. Formulated natural mineral additives and biological cultures are also included in the process in order to renovate the wastewater to the acceptable quality for reuse. The process operates in aerobically and thus eliminates possibility of foul odour. Basically, they see that not a drop is wasted!
The solar energy project using solar photo-voltaic executed by the Bangalore based firm, Biome environmental solutions has reduced energy consumption by 57%.
Our walk takes us past an animal shelter that has rescued horses and also sheep and we move towards the area where bricks for construction are made. All the structures of Govardhan Eco-village are made from bricks that were produced using local soil and other stabilising materials by volunteers. We learn that 90 percent of the materials were sourced from within 100 Kms radius of the facility. The village also has an Ayurvedic Wellness Centre and a Yoga Centre.
The aim of the eco-village was also to create a Vrindavan replica that connects Krishna devotees to Him. The walk through the replica of the original Vrindavan takes you through the various Krishna lilas described in the Srimad Bhagvatham. We go past the ‘Yamuna’ river where we see a band of devotees singing devotional songs. The parikrama is so biodiverse that hundreds of butterflies flutter between a variety of flowering plants.
We then proceed towards the 85 feet replica of the fabulous Madan Mohan temple at Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh. The priest performed the arti at noon. After this we proceeded towards the Sri Sri Radha Vrindavanbehari Temple for the noon arti and pooja. Opposite the deity is a life-like figure of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupäda. The bhajans are sung in a highly spiritually charged atmosphere. The roof of the temple has paintings of Lord Krishna and stories from the Bhagvatham. I sit to meditate for a while before we make our way for lunch and our drive back to Mumbai. Unfortunately, due to constraints of time, we couldn’t stay longer for the Arti at the Yamuna which is supposed to be an elevating experience, but hopefully we go back again someday to experience that.
The Govardhan Eco Village has won several awards that include the ‘Smarts Cities Awards- 2017’ in the category ‘Smart Village Award’; the UNWTO award in the NGO category of Eco tourism as a catalyst for Rural Development presented by the Ministry of Tourism, and also awards for Water Conservation and Zero-Waste.
Rates of the tours are as follows
- Rs. 850/- includes Breakfast, Lunch, Activities & access to the Ashram area
- Rs. 1000/- includes Breakfast, Lunch, Activities, access to Ashram area & Swimming pool
- Overnight stay – Rs 2520/- Each room is equipped with a single bed, a ceiling fan, a desk with chair, electric tea kettle, a closet with hangers. The room is Non- AC is for a single person with a common shared washroom .Bed linens, pillow, blanket, and towels are provided.