Indian ecostay described as a 'pocket of heaven' plans to open education centre

Saraya in the making, (c) Saraya ecostay
Saraya in the making, (c) Saraya ecostay
An ecostay in South India is developing an ambitious plan to expand into the education sector, nearly three years after its launch ROBYN WILSON reports
Nature and sustainability have been a part of my inner-self for some time but I didn’t realise they were there until I started building Saraya

The Saraya echo stay in Goa's Bardez region in South India has grown widely in reputation since it opened its doors in December 2014.

Described by many as a "pocket of heaven", it is a place where tourists and locals are able to escape the nearby busy beaches, either to stay overnight or just to grab something to eat.

Today's generation

But now, Punjab-born owner, Deeksha Thind, is planning how best to inspire and involve more people in eco-living. This includes opening a new education centre.

"I think the future is education," begins Deeksha, who is an architect by trade. "I find a lot of young people in today's generation are all on sabbaticals because they don't know what they want but they definitely know what they don't want.

"So when I was thinking about what to do with the rest of the land, I thought I needed to look beyond the ecostay here."

Deeksha's idea for the land, which nears 2-acres in size, centres around an educational space, where people who are looking to change their careers, could stay whilst they are deciding what career they want to move in to.

This might include taking part in a free open university course whilst they are staying at Saraya - something which would be particularly beneficial for students who are unable to pay for pricey accommodation or additional studies.

Built from scratch

"People who can afford to pay [to lodge] would pay and those who couldn't would volunteer and we would have a centre where people could live in a sustainable way, whilst contributing to the space," she says.

The site would sit opposite the existing Saraya ecostay, which was also a creation of Deeksha's.

"Nature and sustainability have been a part of my inner-self for some time but I didn't realise they were there until I started building Saraya. And when I started building it, it just sort of flowed out of me very naturally."

It wasn't long before people started to get involved in the project, resulting in a place which marries together art, food and eco-living.

Built from scratch, Saraya's ecostay is made from natural materials, with mud huts and treehouses forming the two different types of accommodation available on the site.

Creating treehouses

With help from YouTube videos and local knowledge, Deeksha and her team built the mud huts with recycled and natural materials.

"The idea was that we'd use glass bottles to honeycomb the walls to make them much stronger and reinforce them," Deeksha says, explaining how the mud huts were formed.

"This then formed part of a recycling project, where glass bottles could be reused. I also loved the way the light shone through the bottles, adding to the design of the huts."

Volunteers from the community helped with some of the building, including local homeschooled children, who were able to learn about the build process whilst joining in.

Nature and sustainability have been a part of my inner-self for some time but I didn’t realise they were there until I started building Saraya

And rather than cutting down the existing trees on the land to make space for more huts, Deeksha decided to work around them by creating treehouses.

Vegetarian food

"Initially, we used the trees to do the building but later I disconnected them from the build, whilst letting them remain in the structure," she says.

As a result, the material costs were the smallest expense on the project, which meant the money saved could be used to pay higher rates to underprivileged Indian builders employed on the scheme.

As Deeksha says, "The workers on this project come from different parts of India, where there might be droughts or floods so they can't sustain themselves on their own land.

"So they have gone looking for work in other parts of India where they can use their skills and send money back to their family members who are left behind."

Saraya also has an art gallery and a café, the latter of which serves fresh vegetarian food on a daily basis.

Inspiring a community

They grow as much of their own food as they can in the farm surrounding the ecostay, although seasonal monsoons have so far restricted the team from serving up ‘farm-to-table' food only. However, the team is looking at how it can realistically harvest crops throughout the year.

Deeksha is also researching a variety of other sustainable measures to introduce into Saraya, including wind and hydropower as potential renewable energy sources to use on the site.

The importance of community and family is a clear driver for Deeksha, who explains how her four children have also played a key role in building Saraya. "We're growing this venture with the entire family, who all have the same philosophy of living."

It is that philosophy of living that is going a long way to inspiring others to turn to an eco-lifestyle.

As Deeksha says, "People get so inspired when they visit Saraya and they see that you can do something like this: live sustainably and carry out a zero-waste lifestyle. So we are inspiring a community here."

This Author

Robyn Wilson is a freelance journalist currently writing and travelling across Asia. She is a former news editor at Construction News. She blogs at Weird Fishes and tweets at @RobynFWilson.


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