Panchgani: The Ethos of an Eco-sensitive Zone

Encompassed by five hills from the Sahyadri mountain ranges, Panchgani is a picturesque hill station in the south-east region of Maharashtra.  Endowed with immense natural richness and cool tropical climate, it is home to multiple endemic species which along with its captivating terrain, lures people from across the world. But the essence of any region truly lies in its socio-cultural fabric and ethos formed by individuals and organizations integrated within the backdrop. With multiple environmentally conscious endeavors working towards sustaining the natural elements of the region, Panchgani thrives against all odds. All Living Things Environmental Film Festival (ALTEFF), based in Panchami,  is a platform that inspires and mobilizes communities to take action towards co-creating a sustainable future, locally and at large. ALTEFF recognizes the diligence of these organizations and works closely with them.

TheVibe brings to you the unsurpassed organizations that make Panchgani what it is:

°Redstone Organic Farm

What started as the Redstone eco-center and organic farm with a rationale of sustainable living at its heart has evolved into an unparalleled multi-faceted endeavor which personifies an alternate and ethical way of living.  … “This region is the part and parcel of my existence, I’ve interacted with these elements of nature from a very young age” recalls Mona Patrao, the founder of Redstone Organic Farm, as she reminisces about her lifelong journey which is intricately etched in the fabric of the region’s environment.  Early on in life, she made a conscious choice of a life intertwined with reckless and yet pacifying wilderness, over the possibility of a conventional and monotonous urban existence. Her contribution to the ethos of the region involves unadulterated hard work to educate the locals, from basics like waste segregation to pushing for reform with the municipal authorities.  Over the course of time, Redstone has served as an educational center, a farm, a farmers’ market, and a camp and what remains constant in all these facets is the ideology prioritizing nature as a driving force of life. Panchgani has always lured tourists from across the world and Patrao believes, that the agency of what we offer them is vested within us as people and hence a holistic experience based on ecotourism is what Redstone offers. As a camp, they propagated aspects like alternate energy and an appreciation for the environment through walks.  One of the classic understanding of environmentally conscious living has been the incorporation of the local people, precisely what Redstone farmers’ market does by providing a free of charge platform for organic produce by the locals. Eccentric and efficacious, Redstone remains a pioneer organization in the region.

°The Odd Gumnut

Laid out on an acre of land, The Odd Gumnut is brimming with action- from permaculture farming, production of ecologically conscious beauty products to running a zero-waste commercial brand- Rise Up Kombucha. The abundant and ethical production and the distinct cultural vibe of thriving together make it an exhilarating experience for guests. On the ideological front, they are protagonists of radical self-reliance education and run workshops on practices like gardening and natural living.  In a world perpetually giving in to the extractive, wasteful tendencies, this organization has imbibed the regenerative principle reiterating and syncing with nature itself. Located in the Western Ghats, Panchgani offers extremely rich biodiversity and purity in terms of the environment and hence this venture contributes to upholding the sanctity of the region.  . In juxtaposition with the locals who have been induced with environmental consciousness, it is the tourists, people who have a relatively short term commitment with space, who need to be introduced to sustainable ways of living. It is the latter who also provide for the economic sustenance of the region and hence need to be introduced to ventures that they can support.  At the same time, the responsibility of incorporating the aspect of the environment within hospitality is that of locals. Laura Christie Khanna, co-founder talks about the role of an ethical production unit on an economic level and says,  “it creates a rural-urban link where you make quality produce like honey and vinegar available to an urban setting like Pune where the demand is high” The Odd Gumnut is at once, a champion of the cause and a solicitous retreat!

°Devrai Art Village

Devrai Art Village is a community of around fifty highly skilled Adivasi craftsmen and artists; a large family of people who’ve come together to celebrate and connect to nature through the medium of art. Indigenous tribal art has been historically like that. The forte of the community of fusing stones with brass and it remains the core of their art with other elements being wood, bamboo, and fabric. Indigenous art in contemporary times has lost its vitality due to the lack of understanding of its diversity and repetitive stereotypical designs and hence the artifacts made here are unique and commercially viable and keeping up with the pace of the time and simultaneously generating economic sustenance for an entire community of artisans. Devrai Art Village has become a bridge to reintroduce indigenous values to the tourists and the indigenous people who have lost touch with their roots. The latter is done through a dedicated center established for training these people. With the influx of tourists in Panchgani, it hardly feels like an eco-friendly zone. At this point in time, the domain of inducing awareness is expanded and made palpable by the medium of art as it connects people, evokes curiosity, and aspiration while aligning with ecotourism. Mandakini Mathur, the founder, lays out the mechanism for the community’s engagement with nature “Not only our art is inspired by nature as in the region, it physically incorporates elements of nature, for instance, the use of leaves and organic casting” They have a whole range of artifacts that incorporate elements like wildflowers, indigenous animal replicas and other organisms that draw attention to the indigenous biodiversity of the region. By weaving stories and creating curiosity, they educate people about the same. Mathur’s filmmaking, she believes is a consequence of her fear of the loss of Panchgani as is known to her. The forest department used the film to create a dialogue between the village community and department. While our contemporary times witness the reckless commercialization and infringement of indigenous art, Devrai Art Village places the power of sustaining and benefitting back in the hands of the people who deserve it the most.

°Network of Creative Thinkers

Wreathed with the glistening laurel of ‘India’s Best Design Studio 2020’ for digital design, Network of Creative Thinkers. NOCT works on two planes broadly- digital product designing and brand and communications. The position of any design studio is essentially, monetarily premised on other organizations which limits the room for them to engage with environmental consciousness. Defying the barriers of this position, NOCT has been participating in the cause through spreading awareness about environmental degradation and alternate ways of living, through endeavors like ALTEFF which is rooted in Panchgani. The entire spectrum of design services for the film festival has been undertaken by NOCT. They incentivize ethical and environmentally conscious firms to associate with them in terms of discounts and offers which leads to fruitful collaborations to further the cause. Neha Shrestha, the co-founder, reiterates the significance of virtual content on social media and the internet, “We tend to understand things when we come across them on, say social media. There are people researching but this information doesn’t effectively permeate down to people which leads to a lack of awareness.” In their selective approach to organizations they partner with, NOCT has incorporated its ideology of collectively moving towards a paradigm where every organization becomes conscious. On a more tangible front, NOCT is also looking forward to venturing into the domain of environment-friendly packaging, given the lack of alternatives to plastic-based packaging. The lush hills of the region invigorate the creative spirits of the team which believes that a lifestyle seated deep in nature replenishes their spirits while Panchgani takes pride in their achievements!

© 2020 Gut and Flow Media Pvt. Ltd.

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