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My Experience Volunteering And Staying At Peepal Farm And Animal Rescue Centre in Dharamshala

Updated: May 14

For an animal lover who is looking for volunteer opportunities in India, it doesn't get better than this. This is an account of my experience with volunteering and staying at the Peepal Farm, a sustainable living and animal welfare centre located near Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh in India.


I've always wanted to do something in animal welfare. I've got my street dogs neutered and started a stray dog welfare community in my gated society. But I've been itching to do more. Maybe start an animal shelter someday or something much bigger than the scope of a few area animals. So I decided to take inspiration by learning from the people who did it and how. Peepal Farm was started by a couple - Robin and Shivani - who both gave up careers in the US and moved to a small village in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. Since starting my vegan transition, I'd been following Shivani for her vegan food recipes and sustainable living practices. I'd also seen Robin's videos creating awareness about animal cruelty especially about the ramifications of the dairy industry, cruelty against both pet and stray dogs, illegal cow trade, and more. Peepal Farm was started as a space to live off the grid, grow own produce, support the micro-local economy and be a haven for injured and healing animals. Today, the impact of Peepal's work transcends beyond its physical walls as the online content shared by Peepal, with Robin and Shivani as the face of them, reaches millions of viewers around India and beyond. As I also later discovered, everyone in Dharamshala including the local bus drivers seem to know of Peepal Farm, Robin and Shivani. Most cafes in Dharamkot and Bhagsu area have the Peepal Farm's version of the "Big or small we love them all" slogan prayer flags put up somewhere!


To say I was inspired was an understatement, but I'd never really thought seriously about volunteering opportunities in India, especially in animal welfare until I heard of the Peepal Farm stay and volunteer opportunity. Simultenously, my patience with the corporate world was wearing thin so after wrapping up a consulting stint, I took off to Dharamshala.

Peepal Farm Stay - A Himachali mudhouse farm experience with vegan meals


The best part about Peepal Farm and an additional reason to volunteer is that they offer a paid farm stay experience right next to the farm which volunteers can avail of. (The farm stay costs Rs. 750/ day which covers the stay, three vegan meals a day and the proceeds support their animal welfare work.)


I was put up in a well-furnished, minimalistic and yet authentic Himachal-style mudhouse constructed with refurbished and sustainable materials, reinstating Peepal's commitment to sustainability in every practice. The house had a comfortable bed, a kitchen with a kettle and stove, and even a working space so I could work on my online pursuits post my volunteering hours (9am-1pm).


Peepal Farm Stay for volunteers  Dharamshala India
my mudhouse

On my first given day, I was given a farm tour and some volunteering do's and dont's by Neha, the farm manager who herself has 16 adopted dogs back home (!!) and has devoted her life to animal work. Peepal is a sprawling farm lush with trees, plants and canopied by Bamboo trees all over, a media room where a team of photographers, video creators, animators and other talented people sit and create all that content, there's a traditional kitchen with both an LPG and a chulha-style stoves where the food for the volunteers is cooked by the village ladies, and a beautiful wooden cabin dining room with lower seating in the middle of it all. Peepal's four "resident dogs" called Khushi, Spot, Chatori and Jhilmil flit about here and there while the humans go around doing their jobs.


Peepal farm dharamshala


Peepal Farm Animal Centre - where dogs, cows, goats, chickens and a single sheep coexist


The animal centre is an enclosed space for a number of rescue animals that are housed in individual kennels with scheduled timings for coming out in the open -- a part that admittedly made me a bit sad but I was told that since the animals don't all get along together, they can't be let out all together. And there was my first lesson on animal rescues -- it's not all as idyllic as it looks on the outside. There are a lot of factors that go in enabling so many animals each with a different personality and behaviour to coexist.


peepal farm animal rescue


Peepal Farm also operates an animal hospital which rescues and treats large animals like cattle, horses and mules as well as dogs and cats. A team of 20+ para vets and 5-6 vets work in the system and the whole operation is funded by Peepal Farm.


Peepal Farm Products - Vegan, organic and healthy products made by local village women


There's a building dedicated to producing Peepal Products where local women from the village whip up vegan and organic products like nut butters, Kombucha, energy bars, snacks, essential oils, and pure spices like turmeric and pepper. These products are sold online, at Peepal farm and at weekend pop-up stalls in nearby cities like Mcleodganj by volunteers like myself.


Peepal farm products stall at Mcleodganj


The 'farm' part of Peepal Farm comes from its patches of land where crops like mulberries, onions, garlic, turmeric, lavender and more which are used in their own food as well as in the commercially sold products mentioned above. As part of my volunteer work, I worked on the farm doing some deweeding, and peeling skins off raw turmeric infusing me a whole new respect for the Indian king of spices!

During my volunteering and farm stay, I had a chance to explore the village life a bit, walk around and get in fresh pollution-free air, mingle with the Peepal staff and with other volunteers, as well as spend time off at Dharamshala and Dharamkot later on. My time at Peepal was limited, but the experience was so refreshing and unique -- right from staying in a village mudhouse overlooking the snow-clad Dhauladhar mountain range to getting three simple but pure and vegan meals in a beautiful setting, to being surrounded by animals, greenery, and good people who cared about the animals and the environment.


I'd recommend everyone to consider staying and volunteering at the Peepal Farm (<-- link to apply) or a similar organization at least for a week for an on-ground experience of how challenging yet wholesome animal welfare and sustainable living could be. If for nothing else, you can support them by adopting a dog, donating and spreading the world.

Like I said, come for the animals, stay for a lesson in humanity.

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 I (Monica) am a lifelong traveler, (40 countries), sustainability and veganism advocate, and a marketer by profession. I'm old school in that I still like to blog and document rather than shoot and post.

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