A permaculture take on eco-tourism

Sebastian von Holstein
Saturday, 27th April 2013

Travel broadens the mind but comes with a carbon footprint. Sebastian visits an eco-retreat in Goa, India and finds a place that combines simple living, upcycling and green technologies with peace and beauty.

Think Goa and long-haired hippy trance parties on the beach may well come to mind, but the stunning grounds here couldn’t take you further away from the noisy bustle of this westernised area of India. This small parcel of paradise, where a rainbow of colours, sided with handmade cob paths and wooden bridges, is the stage for various exotic birds and butterflies to carry out their dance with the surrounding flora, leaving any viewer in a very different form of trance, to that of the local raves.

Nature absolutely co-created this place. YogaMagic, a yoga retreat centre, are serious about doing sustainability properly and this marvellous plot lives up to, and surpasses every expectation in this regard. There is no eco-greenwash here.

Practising permaculture from a tourism perspective

The retreat demonstrates a host of applied permaculture principles. The architecture is a mish-mash of reclaimed Indian antiquity and more recent vernacular design. All structures, whether permanent or seasonal, fit perfectly in their surroundings both in style and in the choice of materials. Other pieces of furniture and furnishings have also been handcrafted locally or reclaimed in the nearby bazaars.

Solar showers are fed from the clean local water supply and all grey water, including urine is redirected towards banana and other exotic fruit trees. There is even a fully functioning humanure waste management system on site, reducing vehicle traffic and the irresponsible disposal of waste that so haunts other parts of Goa’s beaches.

The entire outdoor social area is built around a handmade water tower with traditional motifs and pointed windows. The warming presence of a Buddha statue evokes peace to the scene and provides a distraction from the magnificent sloping roof, layered in dried out palm leaves.

On ground level, cob contours mould different levels of seating areas, gently elevated to provide clean views over the untouched local landscape. From here, you mingle the visual feast of the surrounding landscape with the marvellous food on your plate at mealtimes. Everything here is made fresh and totally from scratch, using only the best ingredients.

Traditional Indian mixed with sustainable design

This is low-impact living at its finest. Seven genuine Rhajastani tents dot the landscape, each with a unique block painted pattern and colour scheme (one for each chakra). These are perfectly suited to the climate and prove cool in the day heat and just perfect for a good night’s sleep.

An attached dressing room with a day bed nests within the mud cobbled walls and thatched roof. During the day, these become the creative spaces for song writing, guitar sessions and reading. Then we have the Gaudi-esque outdoor bathrooms, where terracotta pots are filled daily from the local water source. One feeds the tap and the other is used for hand bathing using a jug, saving goliath amounts of water and simultaneously freeing up the above view: clusters of eagles flying just 30 metres above.

The star of the show however is the compost toilet. Perhaps a strange thing to get excited about, but unlike the semi-functional examples you might come across elsewhere, these open air composting systems prove immaculate and completely odour free, owing partly to a natural organism spray.

Organic, local, with a respect for ingredients

It is one thing to use high quality ingredients, and quite another to cook up a delectable feast, yet recurring conversations at YogaMagic generally revolve around mealtimes. Guests are frequently reluctant to eat out in the event they might miss out on another splendid meal. Lemon rice, Panneer (home-made curdled cheese) curries, cumin carrots and sweet and sour chutneys are but a taster of the constantly rotating menu.

The cooks know and appreciate each ingredient through and through, with the respect for flavours you might only see in some of London’s top restaurants. Fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables are either grown here or kept as natural as possible. Hearty vegetarian meals are phenomenally well balanced and always satisfy.

Desserts are just as mouth-watering, with a varying selection including pineapple turnover, lemon posset and ‘Middle-Eastern’ cake topped with pomegranate. As I hinted, deciding to leave for dinner outside YogaMagic can sometimes be a heartbreaking experience.

Hand-built cow dung yoga temple

Yoga here is not a compulsory part of the daily schedule, however it is near impossible to turn down a session in the aptly named ‘yoga temple’. This impressive structure is made from mud, clay and cow dung. The roof is constructed from fallen coconut trees and ‘tiled’ with rows of palm leaves to keep the worst of the weather out.

While safe from the elements, the intimate connection with nature never fades. During morning meditation, the warm air rustles through your hair and the sweet fragrance of Indian flowers settles in your nasal passages, bringing you effortlessly to a state of bliss.

The location is a different world from the usual air-conditioned yoga studio’s you might frequent back at home. Not only this, YogaMagic is also recognized as one of Goa’s best yoga retreats due to its ceaseless attempt to bring in the very best yoga teachers, while giving a wide berth to new-age yoga fads.

Permaculture-Designed Travel

Every element has been taken care of. The entire retreat is impeccably clean, the staff always helpful, flowers bloom and fruit grows all around. This is living proof that sustainability can be stylish, healthy and delicious all in one. Ever wondered what permaculture-designed travel looks like? Look no further…

For more information on YogaMagic eco retreat, visit www.yogamagic.net

Sebastian von Holstein is currently travelling through India by train for six months, exploring this amazing sub continent as slowly as possible.