A little over 1500 days ago, Ankit Arora set out on his bicycle to experience wanderlust and discover the real culture of India. Today, he has built a self-sustaining village in Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu. A former journalist, Ankit has now worked with different rural communities, making sustainable mud and plastic recycled homes, practicing organic farming and simply meeting new people each day. On the road, he discovered a new face of India — where kindness is a way of life.
He pedalled away…
On 27 August, 2017, Ankit decided to tour India on his cycle, and discover the real beauty of the subcontinent by immersing himself in rural communities and their way of life. He had a plan - to come home after his journey. It has been four years since. For 1500 days, Ankit traversed the length and breadth of the country, without money, relying on the kindness of locals, who welcomed him to their homes and taught him their craft. From making wooden sculptures in Maharashtra and Bengaluru, to learning how to make coconut shell cutlery and jewellery in Tamil Nadu; learning Madhubani and tribal art to actually carving a veena in Thanjavur - Ankit has dabbled in many of India’s varied crafts.
Till he found his home…on the road
After covering 15 states in North, West, South and Central India, and 8 Union Territories, Ankit found a new calling - Sustainability. In October of 2020, he started building a community village where anyone could come and practice all sorts of arts, crafts, organic farming and build natural mud houses. His aim? He wishes to connect with communities and share the learnings he has received from farmers, tribals, weavers, potters, artists, sculptors, musicians and labourers. Inspired by his vision, his friend Sreedevi and her husband, who hosted him in Bengaluru, left city life to start work on this village - a two acre plot in Krishnagiri near Bengaluru.
“I started organic farming and started building mud houses, using organic materials like locally available red mud and brown mud, jaggery, honey, egg yolk, an ancient tribal technique of house building. The homes enable cost - efficient thermal insulation, natural malleability while reducing their carbon footprint. All this I have learnt during my journey and experiences with tribals,” says Ankit, who named this village Innisfree Farm after being inspired by William Butler Yeats’ poem ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’.
Innisfree and Sustainability
At Innisfree, plastic waste recycling techniques were used in building mud houses and sofas. Bottle bricks were designed using plastic bottles stuffed with packet wrappers, which resembled traditional bricks. He also collected alcohol bottles from nearby rivers and Hogenakkal waterfalls were used in the construction. Natural termite repellents were created by combining water with holistic herbs like neem leaves, kadukkai seeds, green chillies, garlic, turmeric and lime.
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Over a year later, today, Innisfree farm reuses 100% of their waste to power eco-toilets, kitchens, electricity and even fodder for the local animals. Ankit also educates the local community, many of whom were organic farmers to begin with before moving to chemical fertilisers. In the natural farm in Krishnagiri, he also trains and teaches people traditional art like Madhubani, Gond, Pichwai, and wall paintings. Sreedevi and her family help in making organic soaps, kitchen compost. “I also learnt how to make kokedama, the Japanese art of growing a plant. We are also making wooden cutlery, kitchen items and furniture from the waste coconut shells and waste wood from the villages. We started organic farming and young curious villagers now visit the farm regularly to learn more,” Ankit tells us.
What’s the next destination?
Ankit says he wishes to collaborate with other local communities to build more such integrated sustainable villages across the country. More focus on rural, sustainable practices and crafts is the need of the hour, he believes. “In Karnataka’s Belgaum, I met a group of single mothers and divorcees from a slum area during my journey. I taught them basic wood sculpting that I had learnt from my time in rural areas. This has made these women self-sufficient. This is the kind of work that needs to be done for various communities across India,” he adds.