“It rained at night. We cleaned the camp in the early morning and then made a trek to the nearest waterfall. The landscape was full of green trees and multi-coloured flowers. On the slopes of the hills we found yellow and violet raspberries.” (from a student’s diary)
Almost all Auroville children have visited Berijam Lake in the summers. “Over the last twenty three years, we estimate that about 3,500 children have spent part of their summer holidays in Summer Nature Camps,” says Frederick, one of the organizers. The camp locations have varied, but have always been near Kodaikanal in the Eastern Ghats Mountains . In the last few years, the location has moved to Berijam Lake , known as the most beautiful high-altitude lake in all of South India . As forest laws protect the lake and forests, special permission is required, but has always been given by the Forest Department.
“On our way up through the dense pine and acacia forests we saw tracks of wild pigs' activity, and found dung. Boris, the Auroville biologist who came with us, explained that it was dung of deers, gaurs and even elephants!” says a student's diary. “But we did not see gaurs and deer on this trip.”
In the summer of 2006 it was no longer possible to conduct the camp at Berijam. Another site was required and after some scouting around it was found near Kavunji, a village about 9 kilometres from Berijam. The site, bordering a small stream, was rented for the Summer Camp 2006. It proved to be a success, not only as an ideal starting point for treks, but also for sports and regattas on the stream.
The organizing team then decided to see if a small piece of land couldn't be purchased, so that Auroville could have its own permanent base-camp. A donation was received; soon afterwards, the team managed to purchase half an acre plot in the name of the Auroville Foun-dation. Bordered by two small streams and a forest, the plot is only accessible by foot. Nearby there is a piece of public land, which can be used for sports and recreational activities. A public road with regular buses to Kodaikanal, Manovanur and Kavunji is only half a mile away.
“The Auroville site is in an ‘ecotone,' a zone between two or more different ecosystems,” says Boris excitedly. “The Auroville summer camp is situated in an ecotone between forests, pastures and terraces with cultural plants. There is a rich bio-diversity. In the morning we heard the voices of the red-wattled lapwing (Venellus indicus) from the wet pasture, a dove from the forest, and a myna from the agricultural land.”
The team is now in the process of raising funds for creating basic infrastructure – dormitories, bathrooms, kitchens, and a multi-purpose hall – for 60 participants. Energy needs will be met from solar and wind sources. The team intends to beautify the plot by planting flower and fruit trees and medicinal plants.
Once the basic facilities have been installed, the plot will be used for more than just summer camps. Frederick envisages that the camp may be used during autumn and spring holidays, as well as for camps with special programmes such as botanical studies. Also other youth, for example from the surrounding villages, will have the opportunity to make use of the facilities. Trekking, rock-climbing, orientation and survival training, living off the land, identifying flora and fauna and caring for the ecological and environmental health will all be part of the various camps. When it is not occupied by school-programmes, Auroville units and services and Auroville-related groups may utilize the camp. “Ultimately,” says Frederick , “the camp could be used as a site to help conflict resolution, for example by inviting Palestinian and Israeli youth.”
“They were 12 cool and magnificent days,” writes Boris at the end of his nature camp experience. “The ancient geological complex called shola of the Palani Hills is among the few places on our planet where man didn't commit an ecological crime. Let's hope that many children may enjoy it.”
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