Indian American Purvi Patel and her husband Josh Harkinson, the founders of Camp Cardamom in Kerala, have a simple mission for their new venture, which will launch this summer.
“Indian American kids go to India, get stuck in the stuffy Metros, trek through guided tours of the country’s sites and temples. And they don’t want to go back,” Patel told India-West on a recent visit to the San Francisco Bay Area. “We want children to experience India in a natural, organic way, appreciating what India can teach them and gaining a sense of pride about their culture,” she said.
The week-long camp — which costs $700 to attend — also aims to disconnect kids from their devices for ephemeral moments, during which they can climb mango trees, swim under waterfalls, or take a walk in the woods. A similar camp is run for young people over 17 and parents.
The couple have two children, Rohan and Kiran, who were enrolled in a Chinese immersion school in Oakland, California, before the family moved to Baroda in 2017.
In Baroda, the children attended an ashram school, which occasionally took them to immersion retreats in the mountains, where the kids could learn about their heritage. “I thought, ‘why can’t we do something like this?’” said Patel, a former attorney.
On a vacation with Patel’s parents in Kerala, Patel and Harkinson found the ideal location for their nascent idea: 100 acres in the mountainous Marayoor Valley, near Munnar. Amidst the waterfalls, fruit trees, and wild animals that dot the property, the couple created Camp Cardamom.
A typical day at Camp Cardamom — which is being marketed to Indian Americans, but will also host children who live in India and tribal children who attend a school which abuts the property — begins with yoga, and then a field trip to interesting locales nearby, such as a jaggery factory, a sandalwood reserve, a banyan tree park, or a waterfall. Kids can also tend the organic garden or farm animals or learn about silkworm cultivation.
Camp attendees can also choose from a variety of traditional arts projects, such as making an unfired clay pot or weaving a traditional fabric. “There is a regained interest in traditional arts,” Patel told India-West, noting that people are returning to handloomed silks and cottons and natural dyes.
The evening program — in the manner of most camps — is set amidst a campfire with music, singing, and skits.
Once a week, the children go on a longer field trip: Patel and Harkinson are planning trips to tribal villages, a wildlife refuge, a tea and cardamom plantation, or a national wild game park.
In keeping with the camp’s ayurvedic focus, kids visit tribal villages and ayurvedic doctors and study ethnobotany, turning local plants into medicine. Patel believes Camp Cardamom is the only Indian camp to offer such an experience.
Campers can also choose electives such as learning to play the tabla; Indian dance; or kalaripayattu, an ancient South Indian martial arts form. The tabla class will be taught by Benny Frank, who has played with Paul McCartney and Lata Mangeshkar, among others. The kalarippayattu class will be taught by Hari Krishnan, a six-time India national champion who also holds a Guinness Book of World Records title.
Meals are vegetarian, mostly comprised of vegetables and grains grown on the camp’s farms. Campers can experience the thrill of picking vegetables for their meals, said Patel. She noted that it is difficult to get seeds in India for the types of vegetables she wants to grow. Back in Oakland, the couple had a home with a big backyard for gardening vegetables and Patel hopes to create a similar environment at the camp.
“We hope to offer kids a nuanced perspective on their history. Kerala is a really nice place to do this,” Patel told India-West.
For more information on the week-long Camp Cardamom, sessions for which will run May 12 to June 22 this year, visit https://www.campcardamom.com