Making a Map

In forestry, I couldn’t imagine working without a map. For the past five years, Sadhana forest has had no detailed map, it has all been pretty much all in Aviram’s head. Which is amazing, and it really shows you don’t need a map if you know the land really well. That however didn’t stop me from making a map. Using free aeral photos, and open source software, I was able to create a map for Sadhana forest that they can post on web, print off on very large scale, or to give to some one who is interested in the project.  Click Here for more informatrion

On top of that, I was also showed a few of the long term volunteers how to do a very simple PSP (permanent sample plot). Although the plots were not randomly or systematically chosen (not enough time for that), they were set up in the areas that were planted in the past couple of years. The plots were done with a 5.65m plot cord (made from some rope that I had), a steal steak and a measuring tape. There were over 150 different species planted in the past, and there is no realistic way to identify them all, so we did a very rough species ID (Planted, Natural or Acacia). We also took some more photo points (N, E, S, W, Up and Down). The idea is to visit these site once every 1-5 years and gather some data on planted survival rates, growth rates, success of different planting techniques and to update the photo points. In 20 years, there should be a very complete and interesting collection of data that will paint a neat picture of this ecosystem. Too add to this, a handful of these volunteers will also be headed to Senegal to start up a similar project from the ground up, being able to start sampling at year zero would also be great, and part of the reason why I trained 6 volunteers how to do this. It is pretty neat when you can show a group of people who are interested in this sort of thing. My stay at Sadhana Forest has been very enjoyable, and I would recommend it to everyone (a chance to see that you can live on $3 a day and have a great time being part of a community).

Posted from Pattanur, Tamil Nadu, India
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Surveying the forest

After one shift of work at the forest I heard of someone who needed some help getting GPS points of the forest. My head perked right up and I met up with a guy named Yoav. Yoav is an American who got a scholarship from the US gov’t to make a book on landmark trees in India. He has done a lot of research in the forest before and had some really good ideas of he wanted to contribute to Sadhana. After a few minutes of talking (in which he asked me a bunch of questions) we got off to do some surveying of the forest.


The surveys were simple, probably not statistically significant, however they do paint a picture of what is out there in the forest (which happens to be a whole lot of introduced nitrogen fixing pioneer species from Australia). We had a small crew and some crude tools, and we measured the trees that landed in our systematically placed 100m2 plot. It was cool, both Yoav and I could breeze through this process. After work was over we went walking in the forest geeking it up, talking about different species and land formation. I learnt a lot about ecology from Yoav.

A Forested Area

We also took some GPS points, took some pictures and got some data for making a rough map for the area. Which was also cool. I was using a borrowed computer though, which complicated things, but I got it nearly completed. With only using 2005 aerial images from Google earth, I was able to construct a pretty good map, all that is missing is some information from Aviram (and he is a very busy man).

Next week I am going to show one of the long term volunteers how to set up a PSP and do some simple sampling (like tree planting plots, with a plot chord). I am also going to pound some steel into the ground and take pictures of those places, and make a SWP (Standard Work Procedure) so that anyone can come back and take pictures of the this forest as it grows (every 5 years). Aviram is pretty excited about this and it is neat that I am able to contribute to the project like this.

In the canyon


A young Acacia


Watering Hole

It looked cool

Also looked cool

Watering hole

We have really enjoyed our stay here, it has been a lot of fun. We are planning to stay a little bit longer and then it is off to Mysore.

Posted from Pattanur, Tamil Nadu, India
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Sadhana Forest

I realize that the sound of going to forest in which you work for you room and the food you get is vegan doesn’t sound like the most popular tourist destination. That is because it is not a tourist destination. The minimum stay here is two weeks, and everyone works for 4-5 hours in the morning. Without really knowing what we were getting ourselves into, Tanya sent an e-mail to say that we were coming.

There are more people here then ever, over 100. Which may not seem like a big number, in the monsoon, there is only about 20 people here though, and this place is starting to swell with the tourist season. The community is going through some growing pains, infastructure is being build encredibly fast accmodate the extra people.

Tshere is a couple that started this forest, their names are Yorit and Aviram Rozin, fueled by a dream, the community was build around non-violence, whole foods, and clear minds (no drinking or drugs while your stay here). There is also a forest (the main focus of the project). The whole area is about 30 ha which is tiny, but it contains a rare ecosystem that is nearly deforested.

Life at the forest is simple, you sleep in simple huts, eat simple food and you do simple tastes. Not that technology is forbidden, quite the opposite, there is wifi Internet access for everyone (if you brought a laptop), the workstations are dotted with iPods and speakers, which play familiar music. There is a projector in the main hall in which movies are played twice a week.

Like I said before, the food is vegan, which has been a lot better then expected. I often finish lunch thinking I could eat more, but I don’t and I’m not super hungry when dinner is served. There is no refined food allowed, no oils or sugar. The food is actually pretty good.

We plan to stay another week or so, and then it is off to Mysore to do some yoga. The posts for the next two months are going to slow down. As we start to spend more time in the same place, we just won’t have that many things to write about. This is a heads up, I will send out another e-mail when we start cycling again. Our ticket to leave India is near the end of April, so some time in May we will be back on the road cycling.

The landscape, this used to have no plants on it, but in the last five years, water conservation has brought the introduced Acacia seed bank alive

Moon Cocoon (or Ecodome), was an experiment to see how packed dirt can make a structure.

A different way to plant, y ou just can’t plant trees like you can back in the forests in Canada

Posted from Pattanur, Tamil Nadu, India
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The rising Sun

Tanya and I are rolling over our boated belly’s reminiscing about the dinner we just had. We splurged (we have been doing that a lot lately) on dinner. A buffet, and it was very tasty (and only Rs400 each). Pondycherry has been good. The four days we have been here have passed quickly, which is surprising as there are no real sights to see here. There is however good food, great service and exceptional value.

The Beachfront of Pondycherry

Pillars stand tall surrounding the Gandhi Statue

Pondycherry is a union territory of India, and a former French colony. The result is a super clean town that holds onto its French culture with more automy then the average city. It is still India though, there are rickshaws and the smell of raw sewage still enters you noise. You forget about these realities when you are reminded of the cheap beer though.

Waves come crashing in

I awoke today to the sound of a Muslim prayer call. I was awake so I got out of bed to see what Pondycherry looked like at 6am. To my surprise, the ocean front was packed full of Indian tourists. There were hundreds of people, kids running around, people meditating, people doing yoga, and people sitting on rocks, facing the ocean waiting for the sun to rise. And it rose, quickly, leaving a orange reflection upon the choppy ocean. I snapped off a couple of pictures, and wandered down the heritage building lined steets. I stumbled across a bakery, I got a chocolate danish and some bread and headed back to our guest house. The baked goods were great (just like everything else you can eat in this town).

Posted from Puducherry, Puducherry, India
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To Chidambaram and Pondicherry

To Chidambaram
Distance: 79km
Roads: great
Traffic: Light (except for the last 7km)

The day started as any other day, asking for directions out of town. Having thought ahead, I had our route writen out in Tamil so it was smooth sailing. Except for one thing, our Rough Guides map blows. Often incorrect and not detailed enough, we kept second guessing the directions that we were given. Luckily we also had an Indian Road Atlas produced by TTK’s Health division (I can’t figure that one out either).

The view of rural India

The TTK map has been correct everytime and has much more detail, it is just hard to use. Never the less we arrived at our destination taking secondary highways the whole way, and it was great roads. Tanya and I must be in pretty good cycling shape by now because we finished 80km by noon.

On Feb 4th (the day the events in this post happened), there was a general strike by everyone in Tamil Nadu. Until 6pm, nothing was open, except for hotels and the odd shop. This came to us as a shock, mainly because we were hungry.

The temple we didn’t see

We couldn’t get lunch, luckily we keep a couple jars of peanut butter handy in case we can’t find food. We also found some bread (if you can call it bread). We went back to our hotel and ate our peanut butter sandwitches (yum yum). There is also a temple in this town, but since we have see so many temples lately we skipped it, they are all pretty much the same anyway.

Like clockwork, everything was open at 6pm. India usually comes alive after the sun goes down anyway, and today was no different. We were relieved because it meant we could eat some dinner.

A big colourful statue

To Pondicherry
Distance: 69km
Roads: Moderate
Traffic: heavy

Along the delta is there is a lot of fog in the morning

There was no logical way to avoid a national highway, so we were stuck on it the whole way to Pondicherry. This was trying on our patients and made the day very difficult (especially for Tanya). Tanya even claimed this has the hardest day yet. We made it though and found a nice guest house, which was great value (A/C, free breakfast, free internet and a view of the ocean from their Cafe), all for Rs1200, which is a really good value.

The view from our guest house in Pondycherry

After settling and showering we headed out to find some lunch. Pondicherry is known for its French Influence. This was a coloney back in the day and it is nice to have a change from the same Tamil Nadu flavors. Lunch was very tasty, but it wasn’t until dessert that we realized just how good the food was here. Chocolate cake, done better then back home. After that we stumbled upon a liquor store (called wine shops here, but have mostly whiskey and very little wine). It cost Rs45 for a 650ml beer (sweet). Across the street there was a store selling French Delicacies. We went in and had some cardamon chocolate truffles. After trying this we knew that we at a special place, some of the best chocolate we have every had and cheap beer. Life is good, I think we are going to enjoy the next couple of days enjoying the Franco-Indian cuisine.

Posted from Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, India
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Yesterday we took a rest day. We found a nice business hotel with room and checked out of our overpriced bad hotel and moved down the road to the nice AC room. The rest day was needed, as we were very tired  after having two days of intense temple trekking (life’s rough eh?).

Distance: 43km
Roads: Fair
Traffic: Moderate

We got on the road a little latter then usual, but we only had 43 km to go so we took our time getting going. We checked many hotels and none offered great value, not until we checked out the one in the Lonely Planet (usually the ones in the lonely Planet don’t have as good as value). The Raya’s Hotel is one of cleanest in town. I worked on the bikes for a while and Tanya got settled.

After a short nap we headed to the Airavatesvara Temple. In the past week we have seen so many temples and you would think that this one would be the same as all the others. It wasn’t, this one was more basic then most of the others, and more like the ones in Badami. It was also deserted, there was only a handful of people there which was enjoyable.

After that we headed back to town and checked out a couple of temples bathing in the late afternoon sun.

Posted from Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu, India
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The Rock Fort Temple, up high on a rock in the middle of the city

We awoke to our alarm on our rest day, which is never really that enjoyable but we had a busy day ahead of us and we couldn’t spend it in bed. We got our sticky bodies out of the tent and put on our clothes. We ate some peanut jaggary snacks (kind of like peanut brittle) and headed to the train station. This was a first train on this trip and I was slightly excited. We had good luck, with 15 minutes before the train left we got a ticket (rs18).

There were no seat on the train for us, which was ok, so we stood for just over an hour talking to some Indians. You meet some interesting people on the trains, I learnt a little bit about Pakistan, Holy headwaters and cell phones. The time flew by and before I knew it we were in Trichy.

The view from the Rock Fort Temple

We headed to the bus station and got on a bus (rs6) to see the sights. There are four sights to see and we saw them all, starting at the lest impressive and making our way to the most impressive. The first was the Rock Fort Temple, which had many steps and you have to climb up in your bare feet. At the top you got a good view of the city. Next was an impressive neo gothic church.

We got back on the bus and said we wanted to go to the temple. Indian buses are an interesting affair. It takes two people to operate a bus in India. You have the driver and all he does is drive, which is harder then one would think (you have to get dangerously close to the cars/bikes/people in front of you, use the horn, shift and drive). Of course if you were doing this there would be no one to collect the bus fair. You have another person swimming through the packed bus collecting bus fare, which just might be more difficult then driving the bus. You have to walk from the back of the bus to the front of the bus remember who has paid and work hard at not falling out of the bus (there are no doors, just door ways). I would not want either job.

Elephant giving blessing

The fare collector told us that the temple was that way and we should get off the bus if we wanted to see it. Not totally sure if it was the right temple, we got out and headed towards the tall painted gopuram. Thinking we were at the wrong temple we still ventured in and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The temple was nearly deserted, we were the only non-Hindus and it was an extremely enjoyable experience. We walked around taking in the sights. It turns out we were at the right temple (Sri Jambukeshwara Temple). After seeing the temple we had lunch.

The goparums that guided us into the temple.

We got back onto the bus and headed to the last sight which was the Sri Ranganathswamy Temple. As we walked closer we were guided to the temple by the 73m tall colourful goparum. This is what the Madurai goparums will probably look like, but with new paint on them. A total contrast to the Sri Jambukeshwara temple, there were many people in here (including more non-Hindus) and it was very noisy. We paid Rs10 for a view point, and glad we did, you could see the 60ha grounds, the 21 gopurams and the main temple. The guy that took us up there turned out to be a student and a guide and he did his sales pitch to us. I was all for it and probably paid more then I needed to, but we got a guide.

It was well worth the price in my mind, Rs300 and he knew his stuff. He even said I asked a lot of good questions (just like University). I was learning, and it was great. I learnt a little bit about temple architecture, the Hindu Cast System, the word Sri means holy and so much more. The temple was build in the 10th century and many different dynasties added on the structure. The most interesting was the granite pillars, which were about 4m tall, and must have weight a ton. The granite for these pillars is from Hampi. Hampi is at least 800km away and the granite pillars came from there, before diesel engines, before smooth pavement. Elephants dragged this granite, and there were so many of these pillars. What an amazing amount of energy and resources were put into these temples. Even by todays standards this would be an expensive building, I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like back then.

The packed train

We took the bus around the town and a train to get to Trichy from Tanjore. In total it cost us Rs40 for transportation for the whole day. Amazingly cheap. If we hired a car for the day it would have been around Rs1500, if we got to Trichy and took a rickshaw it would have about Rs500. But we took mass transit and it cost us $1. This is not without its cost though, you are stuck to the schedule of the transit and you often jammed in the bus/train. The train ride back home is a good example of when spending an extra few dollars would be well worth the cost. Our Rs9 each ticket got us a place on the train, but not necessarily a seat. We luckily found a seat for Tanya, I had to stand though. Until some of the locals convinced me to get on the overhead luggage rack with a sign that said luggage only (more then enough room, just no padding). Then when you think the train is packed full of people and no more could possibly get on, more do. I found it comical, there were an amazing number of people on that train. We were happy to get off packed train.

Posted from Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, India
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Tanjore is  small busy city that boasts a nice old temple (with World Heritage Listed status). First we checked out a palace though (it was on the way). The palace wasn’t anything too special, but it did have a few highlights. There was a museum and an art gallery, but we didn’t check them out because we were running out of time. After the Palace we headed to the Brihadishwara temple.

The temple was very cool, placed on very large grounds, the massive (66m tall) temple is one of the tallest (if not the tallest) temple we have seen. We were there to watch the sun set on sandstone structure. Well worth the wait. This site is definitely worth the World Heritage status. You can even go into the temple and see what most non-Hindus can’t see. There is a statue of some god covered in Gold and there are some Brahman (highest cast in Hindu, like a priest, but rich and you’re born into that cast) bringing pilgrims offerings to the statue and putting red dots on peoples foreheads.

After that we had dinner and then went to our overpriced dumpy hotel.

Posted from Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India
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To Pudukkottai and Thanjavur (Thanjore)

Madurai Gopurams

To: Pudukkottai
Distance: 103 km
Traffic: First 30km was busy and hectic, last 73km was extremely light and enjoyable
Roads: Road construction for the first 30km, smooth and flat last 73km

It took us a while to get out of Madurai (a city of over 1 million people), we made it, however we had to do 30 km on o busy road that was under construction before our turn-off.

Archway with rocks in the distance

Once we got to the turn-off, the rest of our ride was one of our best riding days yet, hardly any traffic, freshly paved wide roads and because there was barely any traffic, even though this goes against all of my general safety precautions while cycling, we both popped in our earplugs, listened to our music (quietly so we could still here anything coming) and ended up riding 103 kms.  We arrived tired to Pudukkottai, but notice there were quite a lot of hotels to choose from, we went to one of the nicest looking first and were told they were full, we then went to the next nicest and there were full also!


I asked why and they hotel worker said the whole town was full because of weddings!!  We started to get a little concerned, but went to try some more, we did find a room that was actually pretty decent and we’re relieved.

To: Thanjavur
Distance:  64km
Traffic: Very light
Roads:  Good

We had a fast and flat day of riding through farm land, rice paddies, and little villages.  We arrived to Thanjavur and started looking for hotels.  Once again we were faced with most hotels we stopped at being booked up and full (with exception of the dodgy ones of course)!!  Because in a city it is fairly difficult to look for hotels on a bicycle, after a few failed attempts at full hotels we called around.  We found one listed in the Lonely Planet with a room, we headed there and it was a bit of a dump and there were charging a lot for a fairly gross room (which they can get away with because it was in Lonely Planet), we took “the last room”, which I found hard to believe, and did our best to stay out of the hotel except to sleep.

Posted from Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu, India
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A temple and a Palace

As you know from the last post, there is a Temple in Madurai. In order to make the most of our rest day, I went to the Temple early in the morning to check it out. Although the outside beauty is covered, there is still some neat things to see on the in side. I did this alone because I awoke at 6:30am and Tanya would rather stay in Bed.

After checking that out we went to a Palace. The palace was pretty neat. Although it is being restored, about half of the building was already restored and it looked amazing. There were not too many people there and we enjoyed the calm space which is always had to come by in India. Here are some of this pictures from the Temple and the Palace.

Posted from Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India
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