India Free Maps

YOU HAVE OPTIONS: DON’T BE HASTY A key decision to make before you settle on the when, where and how of your trip to India (or anywhere else), is whether you’d be better o travelling with an agency, or o your own bat. The perks of the agency option range from their booking your ticket to providing recourse to relocate if you are unhappy at your placement.

The downside? Volunteering through agencies can be expensive, with some charging as much as R11 000 per week. Unfortunately, because voluntourism grew to faddy prominence in the US, England and Australia over the last decade, many agencies sprouted up to capitalise on the wealthy foreign travellers keen to Instagram their way to gap-year fame featuring themselves holding a baby tiger in Bengal. Because of this, many aspiring volunteers on a shoestring budget make contact with independent Indian charities when seeking a placement, cutting out the middle man. And there are many authentically good options out there.

The popular, cool WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms, Wwoof.net) is a worldwide network of organic farmers who offer bed and board for anyone who wants to come and work on their plantation/ dairy/orchard. In India alone the number of hosts has grown to over 100. For organic-eaters, these tea estates, coffee estates and vegan agricultural communities offer the perfect opportunity to contribute at a grassroots level (literally) to their bread, butter and tofu.

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To join, there’s a membership fee of R289 for singles or R464 for couples, for 12 months, and once part of the network, it’s up to you where and for how long you WWOOF. There is one resounding benefit of agency travel, and that is your fellow volunteers. From the unlikely Essex lass who held my hand in a dodgy hospital as I recovered from food poisoning to the down-to-earth New Zealand farmgirl who taught me to paint a lion so that I could teach my class about the Big Five, my co-volunteers became my greatest resource.

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