Ankit Arora is cycling around the country teaching micro-culture and sustainability to villages and communities along the way. He has also started a village in the Krishnagiri district in Tamil Nadu
A journalist from Rajasthan set out to get into the Guinness Book of Records: he ended up pioneering a new village in Krishnagiri district, Tamil Nadu.
When 32-year-old Ankit Arora set out from Jaipur on his cycle in 2017, he was aiming at creating a record for travelling the longest journey on a cycle. He went to Delhi, Ladakh, Kashmir, then began to pedal South. Four years later, he is still on the road.
“Three months into the journey I realised there was no point in getting a record. This way, by travelling around, I was getting to learn so much from people. I decided to make this an ongoing project,” says Ankit, over a call from Bengaluru. He spent time with different tribal and artisanal communities, learning their way of life. “Their lifestyle, technique of growing food, architecture, skills, the feeling of community… all of these appealed to me. Everything they do is organic and sustainable,” he says, adding that it is an open system that anyone can learn.
“They grow food without using chemicals, they save the seeds and share it with each other, they share food with each other, make mud houses together,” says Ankit, explaining how he learnt four different techniques to make mud houses from the districts of Karur and Hosur in Tamil Nadu; from the same State he also learnt how to egg plaster in Chettinad, Dharmapuri, Tiruchirapalli; seed conservation and natural soap making from Lepakshi in Andhra Pradesh; natural rice farming and wood work from Naghbir town in Maharashtra as well as weaving khadi and fashioning a shirt out of it in Wardha; mountain farming from Bastar region in Chattisgarh and Gond art from the Gond tribe there; furniture making (plastic waste recycle techniques were used in building mud houses and sofas using plastic bottles stuffed with packet wrappers, which resemble traditional bricks), and creating instruments like the veena from experts in Vijayawada and Thanjavur.
In every village, and in cities in between villages, Ankit found families that graciously hosted him. One such host family — of Sreedevi Balasubramanian, her husband Colonel L Balasubramanian and daughter — from Bengaluru has joined him in his ambitious project of setting up the Innisfree Village (inspired by the poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree by WB Yeats) in Krishnagiri district. “I told them it was my dream to create a community village where we can live naturally, following sustainable techniques. They echoed my sentiments, and leaving their city life moved to this village,” says Ankit.
Together they scouted for a piece of land, in a village, that is cut off from all forms of civilisation and far from the highway. Having found one near a reserve forest and surrounded by mountains, they built two mud houses, two wood houses and two dry toilets in October last year. “The villagers from nearby areas were amused to see us building everything from scratch, growing our own trees, fruits such as guava, jackfruit, cherry, avocado, and vegetables like okra, bitter gourd, chilli, and drumstick. They were in particular intrigued by the dry toilets and are planning to replicate the same,” says Ankit, who lives here along with Sreedevi and her family. The village has electricity. “Since it is a self sustainable model, we use what we grow for our sustenance and the rest we sell, he says. In one patch of the farm we are also growing cash crops like turmeric. We are also teaching these to the farmers around who are so far only into mono-cropping.”
People interested in adopting this lifestyle or acquainting themselves with it have been visiting the village and staying for a night or two. However, he is quick to clarify that it is not a homestay and open to like-minded people who are serious about shifting to a more eco-friendly way of life. “We have also had volunteers who have expressed interest to come work with us. Recently individuals from Delhi and Bengaluru dropped by as they want to do the same near their cities,” he says.
When Ankit is on the road, Sreedevi and Balasubramanian man the fort. Ankit has, so far, travelled to 15 states in India so far. He plans to continue his mission on wheels, learning from communities and imparting the knowledge to other communities which can benefit from it.
For details, check out his Instagram page india_on_my_cycle. Innisfree Farm can also be found on Google Maps.