Travelogue – The Timbaktu Collective

Like I had mentioned in the previous post, am just back from a visit to a place close to Dharmavaram in Andhra Pradesh, called the Timbaktu Collective. It’s beginnings and philisophy are best read about on the website itself, will just narrate my experiences there.

After 2 hours by train to Bangalore and 5 hours of navigating somewhat substandard roads to Chennekothapalli, was picked up and packed off for some lunch at the school run by the Collective here.

The school has an interesting philosophy of no competition and no extracurriculars. No competition would mean no grading and exams and rankings, student progress is monitored via worksheets that they fill up regularly. No extracurriculars simply means that everything is in curriculum! They have daily crafts, singing and other arts, sports and studies which mainly focus on language and math. Their idea is that if a student masters a language well, then learning knowledge in that language will be facilitated. Most of the students here are from socially and economically backward backgrounds, and some with a history of family violence and others who have been rejected as failures in the local government school.

This is the only school that I have seen that actually encourages making paper rockets in class! The picture alongside is the classroom, The students being engaged in their song and dance practice.
Close by is a children’s learning centre, with a well furnished library, computers, tailoring machines, physics and chemistry labs, woodworking tools which the children not only of their own school, but the local government school as well can use. The only restriction is that there is no teaching here, if the students have doubts, they ask the elders present, else they essentially freak out in what which way they like.

The photo alongside is the students learning centre.
Timbaktu is slightly outside the village, and the person you see with the vehicle in the children’s learning centre, Mr. Subba Raju was my official guide and contact. A member of the Collective almost since its inception, he is a PhD in Power Systems from IIT Powai, and takes care of the educational initiatives here.

Playground, with a scenic view.

The reason I had visited Timbaktu was to demo a motion sensor based lighting system, like what is available commercially nowadays. They have installed LED based pathway lighting, which is left on the whole night. Considering that they run the whole Collective on solar power, anything that can cut consumption is welcome, and hence my proposal.

This is Subba Raju’s house in Timbaktu. Like everything else in Timbaktu, appropriate to the social, economic and environmental conditions found in this area, which boasts of being one of the driest places in Andhra Pradesh, with annual rainfall of 300mm. We reached at around 5 PM, and spent the rest of the evening demoing the system, as well as discussing LED lighting. After a great dinner which was well suited to my tastes (salty, not too spicy), talked a bit about how civilization is progressing and other miscellaneous heavy matters, and dropped off by round 10 PM to rest.

Another incredible initiative of the Collective has been the protection and regeneration of the forests around. The forests have been severely degraded due to forest fires, over grazing and wood-cutting. 15 years of protection have allowed Nature to regenerate the forests, unlike Forest Dept initiatives to bring in fast growing varieties from nurseries and plant them in foreign conditions. The contrast can be seen in the following photos. One is of a hill which is not protected and the other which is. Timbaktu takes care of an area of about 100 acres of forest, and supported an initiative of joint village ownership of forests on revenue wastelands which spans a mind-boggling 10,000 hectares. These forests have made streams perennial, revitalized the economy of artisans and forest produce harvesters as well as providing the local animals with shelter.

I left back for the other kind of reality the next day morning. On the whole, a very refreshing experience, with the added bonus of a kilo of really tasty chutney powder which was made that morning. Timbaktu is an interesting experiment to seek alternate forms of social organisation which are not necessarily parasitic upon the surrounding ecology. Though it will remain an experiment for atleast a few more decades, time will come when the lessons learnt here will be taken seriously by ‘advanced’ civilizations such as ours. Their entire outlook can be summarised by the next photo. As you might have guessed, this is the same stone that says ‘Welcome to Timbaktu’. You will see this on the way back.

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13 thoughts on “Travelogue – The Timbaktu Collective”

  1. It is a great place to visit and understand. It would be great if one prefers to stay in Timbaktu. Children are amazing, happy and lively. Look at the kids doing dappu dance (dancing with drum beats).
    But there are things one could do more, organic farming apart from watershed and women empowerment. Kudos to the people there for their effort. Living to lead.

  2. I am happy that person who was hostelite and collegue in IITB HAS CONTRIBUTED and achieved so much. I was eagerly searching for his where abouts.

  3. Hi,

    I had visited this place in 2000. I wanted to be in touch with people there. I remember Subbaraju and Dinesh. Do you have their contact. It would be great if you can share that.

    -Kaushal Chandak
    kaushalchandak @ gmail. com

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  6. I am just about to leave on a trip to Timbaktu. Am helping a friend of mine shoot the work going on there – haven’t been there before and am really really excited to go and see everything that the internet is talking about, about this place. Where the earth means the sky – it sounds like a perfect place for my writing to fit into, since I’ve been writing a lot, about the relationship between the earth and people.

    I’m hyper-excited!

  7. iam also interested,how to reach timbaktu.here there is a women that lived & helping that people in village.she is a malayali,Mery vattamattam.why you didn’t saw that women.

  8. i met subbaraju in 1989 in iit mumbai. at that time, he was doing great. but, now he is doing greatest things.

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